Earthlife Africa, Birdlife SA, Mining and Justice Community Network of SA, Endangered Wildlife Trust, Groundwork, Association for Water and Rural Development and Benchmarks Foundation stand together in the challenge. The respondents are Ministers of Mineral Resource, of Environmental Affairs, the Director General Department of Mineral Resources, the MEC Department of Agricultyre, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs Mpumalanga, and Atha-Africa Ventures (PTY) LTD
Mabola is one of five important water sources in Mpumalanga that were proclaimed protected environments in January 2014 by Pinky Phosa, then the MEC for economic development, environment and tourism. Proclamation enables government authorities and private landowners to work together to protect ecosystems of high value.
Mabola covers 8 772 hectares between Wakkerstroom and northern KwaZulu-Natal and is a high-yielding water catchment area that feeds several major rivers.
Private landowners in the area, mostly farmers, agreed to make it a protected environment after years of negotiations with some of South Africa's largest environmental nongovernmental organisations and the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency.
Atha-Africa Ventures, an Indian company, called a meeting on January 23 2015 with landowners in the Mabola protected environment, where the company claims to have a right to mine coal.
At the meeting in the Wakkerstroom Country Inn in January 2015, Atha-Africa Ventures representatives told the half-dozen landowners present that the company had been granted a mining right for Mabola but that it had not been â€œexecutedâ€.
Atha-Africa was represented by its senior vice-president, Praveer Tripathi, and Sizwe Zuma, who registered himself at the meeting as a director of the company.
Tripathi said the department of mineral resources had accepted the mining right in 2013, about eight months before the Mabola protected environment was declared."The mining right was already accepted, the protected environment came later,â€ he said. â€œIt was an existing right. This is where the conflict comes in."
As a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, South Africa has pledged to conserve 12% of its terrestrial area. Currently, less than 7% of the country is conserved. Protected environments add to the countryâ€™s conservation basket by allowing private properties and landowners to collaborate in biodiversity stewardship.
Accoding to Marth¡n Theart, an attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights, the crux of the Mabola matter was that the Protected Areas Act provided for mining as an acceptable land use, but did not provide regulations or guidelines on factors that the ministers had to consider when deciding whether to grant permission for mining to take place in a protected environment.
"A starting point would obviously be the requirements for the declaration of the protected environment. If an area deserves protection, those same motivations should be extremely relevant to any decision to allow mining," he said.
Jacques Modipane, then chief executive of the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency, said at the time: "The protection of these properties under national legislation not only secures important areas of grassland biodiversity for future generations but also enables landowners within these protected areas to work collectively to conserve their land, to implement sustainable land-use practices and to safeguard against land uses that could end up destroying the area."
Modipane was suspended by the agency's board in late December, for reasons that he described to the New Age as "olitically motivated".
Theart said about 63% of the land in Mpumalanga was currently being mined or was the subject of mining right applications.
Court papers were lodged on 10 September 2015 applying to the High Court to set aside the decision taken by the Minister of Mineral Resources, and other application, including consultation with Department Water and Sanitation, Environmental Affairs and consideration of various strategic studies intended to inform decision making, including Listed Threatened Ecosystems, Conservation Plan of Mpumalanga and the Atlas of Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas.