21 August 2018 - 05:04 Mark Olalde
Pollution: Water resource management consultant Anthony Turton, with the Mintails gold plants and water treatment tanks in the background. Picture: BUSINESS DAY/FREDDY MAVUNDA
Mintails Mining and several related companies have announced their liquidation, throwing into question the environmental rehabilitation of highly polluting operations near Johannesburg.
Mintails mines and processes gold from a sprawling 1,715ha complex of waste piles and open pits in Krugersdorp and has for years been flagged for noncompliance. Its operations are bordered by informal settlements and suburbs housing thousands of residents, many of whom have complained of health effects, which they blame on radioactive dust and water pollution from Mintails’ mines.
Records show that the cost to clean up the environment would be about R330m, but there is only R25.6m available.
Observers fear that the situation could deteriorate further, as happened at the Blyvooruitzicht Gold Mine, an abandoned large-scale operation on the West Rand.
A case study in the country’s deeply flawed mine closure system, Mintails teetered on the verge of collapse for years and entered business rescue in October 2015.
Mariette Liefferink, the activist CEO of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, tracked Mintails for more than a decade and is now working to intercede in the liquidation proceedings as the legal voice for what she labels the "mute environment".
"There was poor planning. [Mintails’] due diligence was flawed. They overestimated the gold grade and the resource that could be reclaimed.
"They continued to exploit the resource, to reclaim only the profitable parts and never top up the financial provisions," Liefferink says.
As the company slips into liquidation, it passes the brunt of its environmental liability to taxpayers and, to an extent, to other mining companies.
After Mintails fought for nearly three years to save the company, business rescue practitioner Dave Lake notified the Johannesburg high court in early August of his intention to liquidate the company.
Provisional liquidation was granted on August 17 and a liquidator is expected to be appointed soon.
THERE IS NO LONGER A REASONABLE PROSPECT OF RESCUING THE COMPANY.
The business rescue plan called for the refurbishment of a gold ore processing plant but, according to a memo dated August 1 that Lake sent to the court and to affected parties, it failed when multiple investors ceased funding Mintails.
"There is no longer a reasonable prospect of rescuing the company," the memo read.
The liquidator will now decide how to pay back creditors with the remaining assets. Environmentalists fear this process could leave environmental liabilities low on the list of what deserves money.
According to the business rescue plan, written in December 2016, Mintails owed various creditors more than R1bn, including a shortfall of about R300m in reclamation funding. Due to a web of involved companies, it remains unclear if a large portion of the already insufficient financial provisions can be accessed for environmental cleanup.
DRDGold formerly held one of the mining rights and the corresponding trust fund, which are now in the Mintails group.
DRDGold CEO Niël Pretorius says he believes that the trust fund contained R18m but he did not identify the trustees, whose consent is vital to unlocking the money.
Documents show the Mintails group acknowledged that rehabilitation would probably cost between R300m and R336.5m, but it declined to top up financial provisions.
According to the environmental management programme from one of Mintails’ mining rights: "These liabilities are also historic and predate Mintails’ involvement and should thus not be for Mintails’ account."
Experts debate this narrow interpretation of the law.
Lake wrote in the business rescue plan: "The Mintails group’s rehabilitation liabilities have remained largely unfunded for some time, and there are simply no free funds available to the [business rescue practitioner] to enable him to immediately provide such funding."
Legal Resources Centre attorney Lucien Limacher is representing the Federation for a Sustainable Environment.
"This is a trend that has been occurring for a couple of years where mining companies have undertaken a business rescue plan or have applied for liquidation because they have failed to really look after the rehabilitation fund," he says.
The Legal Resources Centre sent letters to several government agencies, including the department of mineral resources, the department of water & sanitation and the department of energy, asking them to intervene in the situation and threatening to pursue legal action if the department of mineral resources fails to act.
Department of water & sanitation spokesperson Sputnik Ratau says they are "engaging Mintails so that the immediate measures can be put into place to ensure water resources protection. A longer-term plan is required to ensure rehabilitation of the mining-impacted areas."
Lake declines to answer questions about the failed business rescue and the liquidation but he wrote for Moneyweb in January 2017 and laid out his argument for Mintails’ use of business rescue: "Mintails was sick – but it wasn’t terminal."
Now the situation has become what Liefferink calls "pass the parcel", with Mintails playing the part of a "scavenger company", a term coined by researchers to describe under-resourced outfits that buy the scraps left over from larger mining companies and ultimately abandon them.
Large gold, coal and platinum mines rarely, if ever, properly close in SA and there wasn’t one large-scale mine in Gauteng that achieved full, legal closure between 2011 and 2016.
Mintails’ case will not affect the law that ring-fences financial assurances for reclamation, Limacher says. "But it is precedent-setting in that mines might now start applying for liquidation to avoid paying the cost of rehabilitation."
Mintails’ West Rand concessions came in part from DRDGold, which also remines waste piles, and from Mogale Gold, which was in judicial management when Mintails acquired it in 2006.
Since then, Mintails engaged in a pattern of environmental degradation. For example, the department of water & sanitation found in an August 2014 inspection that Mintails transported "slurry/sludge" in unlined trenches, completed insufficient monitoring, spilled slurry from pipelines and implemented no storm water management system at a pollution control dam.
In December 2016, polluted runoff from waste piles was found to be seeping through a dam wall into the Wonderfonteinspruit, which has immediate downstream agricultural uses in the community of Kagiso.
Now it will largely be up to the liquidator and regulators to protect the environment and public health.
"That is the pattern that seems to be followed in the gold mining industry, and, I assume, would be followed in the coal and platinum mining industries, as well.
"As soon as a mine is no longer very profitable, it transfers its assets," Liefferink says. "That seems to have the tacit support of the department of mineral resources."
However, the department of mineral resources sent a statement that reads: "The department will engage with the appointed provisional liquidators with the intention to safeguard the environmental and social responsibilities."
Mintails former CEO Johan Moolman declined to comment except to say he quit on June 26 when he learned a new investor had bought the company. Mvest Capital agreed to purchase Mintails from Paige, a vehicle of the UK-based Harbour family, with the understanding that Mvest would inject R30m into the beleaguered company to stimulate the business rescue plan. Mvest decided against handing over the full amount, paying only R5.5m.
Mvest director Matthew Moodley acknowledges the initial agreement and the R5.5m. He says that after a month it became apparent the deal would require more investment to succeed. "With the increased need for working capital in July, Mvest took a decision to withdraw from the transaction," Moodley says, adding that Mvest did not "conclude a transaction with Paige".
Liefferink says these companies are all "jumping from a sinking ship".
She fears Mintails will go the way of the abandoned Blyvooruitzicht Gold Mine, which was once one of the country’s most productive gold operations and is now a source of pollution, violent illegal mining gangs and headaches for adjacent mines.
Mintails has followed a strikingly similar pattern. In the Blyvooruitzicht case, two companies, DRDGold and Village Main Reef, almost completed a business deal to sell the nearly exhausted mine and both walked away, claiming the other carried responsibility.
"That whole area, just like Blyvooruitzicht, will be left like it is," Liefferink said.
While neighbouring mining companies will probably have to pump water from the void in Mintails’ absence, the consequences of "the dust fallout and the toxic water in the river systems" will be carried by communities and by the municipality.
Additional reporting by #MineAlert manager Tholakele Nene
The National Planning Commission (NPC) invites you to participate in a dialogue process on developing pathways for the just transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient society. As articulated in South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP), specifically Chapter Five, the NDP envisages that by 2030, the country will have made headway in transitioning to a society that is just, inclusive, sustainable and resilient.
The intention over the coming months is to run two parallel engagement processes. One will involve key government, civil society, business and labour representatives in a Social Partner Dialogue Series. The second one will be a Broader Stakeholder Engagement which intends to open up the conversation to all stakeholders around the country, and inform the Social Partner Dialogue Series.
The aim of this process is to reach a social compact which will involve seeking an agreed vision and identified pathway for a just transition which addresses poverty, inequality, and unemployment.
which we hope you will be able to read before the workshop and a programme for the day.
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By GroundUp• 24 July 2018
“Powerful interests use violence and threats to cut off those defending human rights.”
By John Yeld.
First published by GroundUp.
Coal mining is a very dirty business. And as a stream of abuse on social media against those challenging a new coal mining venture in one of South Africa’s most critical and formally protected water catchment areas confirms, the dirt isn’t always in the coal dust.
Twitter accusations against a coalition of eight environmental and social justice groups and their lawyers seeking to block the planned Yzermyn Underground Coal Mine development at Mabola in Mpumalanga, include treason, economic sabotage, extortion, bribery, blackmail, duplicity, dishonesty and lies.
They are further accused of being “anti-national, anti-people, anti-development”, and a comparison to Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels has been thrown in for good measure.
As ludicrous as it sounds, it’s no laughing matter, and suggests that a Bell Pottinger-style social media harassment strategy may be under way against opponents of the mine project.
Particularly worrying was a thinly veiled death threat made on Facebook last month, aimed at local farmer Oubaas Malan who also opposes the Yzermyn mine but is not involved in the comprehensive legal challenges currently under way by the coalition.
The threat was posted by Thabiso Nene, who heads The Voice Community Representative Council, a registered NPO billed as “a community-based organisation that stands for radical economic transformation” in the Dr Pixley Ka Isaka Seme local municipality where the would-be mine is located.
What particularly incenses Nene, Tripathi and other supporters of Atha Africa is that an open coal mine, Loskop, has been operating on Malan’s family farm on the same area. However, Malan has countered by pointing out that this is an old mine started in the 1980s – three decades before the Mabola Protected Area was proclaimed – and that he doesn’t own the mining right to it. Although he concedes negotiating a fee from the mining company that most recently owned the mining right and attempted to work the mine, now effectively abandoned, he says it reneged on payments to him and has caused severe environmental damage.
Last month, Malan boasted to the Saturday Star newspaper about his tenacity in tackling Atha Africa. “I’m like a Jack Russell terrier fighting a boerbul. I won’t let go,” he was quoted as saying.
Nene’s lengthy Facebook response included what can be interpreted as a death threat: “As Oubaas say ‘I’m like Jack Russell terrier fighting boerboel. I just won’t let go’ he should watch our community lays Jack Russell terrier to permanent sleep. We r masters in resting dogs with rabies. Obaas can take dat to de bank.”
A formal complaint about the death threat – that now appears to have been removed from Facebook was made to the South African Human Rights Commission. The commission described the threat as “naked criminality” but declined to investigate, suggesting instead that the police should handle the matter because of the violence implicit in it.
Many of the offending tweets in the social media campaign against the coalition have been made by Praveer Tripathi, senior vice-president of the Atha Africa Ventures mining company that plans to develop Yzermyn. It acquired a mining right in 2015 but the granting of this right and various environmental approvals are now being challenged by the coalition.
Tripathi also retweeted, without comment, a tweet by @Madlokovu15 that had in turn repeated the Facebook death threat word-for-word.
Tripathi’s Twitter profile distances him from his employer, suggesting his comments should not be read as signifying his professional position as a senior executive of Atha Africa, a subsidiary of the India-based international mining company Atha Group. The company has also attempted to distance itself from his highly controversial remarks. “Mr Tripathi’s posts on his personal account, are his own personal views and do not mirror the views and opinions of Atha Africa. Accordingly, Atha Africa is not responsible for these comments.”
However, the company has not publicly condemned any of Tripathi’s comments, but asked that questions on the matter be directed to the executive himself.
Screen capture from Praveer Tripathi’s Twitter account.
A formal complaint about Tripathi’s earlier social media comments has been lodged with Minerals Council South Africa (formerly the Chamber of Mines) by the Centre for Environmental Rights, a public interest group of attorneys that represents the coalition. Atha Africa Ventures is a Council member and as such is bound by the Council’s mandatory code of ethical business conduct and guiding principles. The Council has yet to respond to the Centre’s complaint.
Tripathi, who has just 70 Twitter followers, last week failed to respond to emailed questions asking him to explain the accusations in his tweets and to comment on their possible consequences. Instead, he posted correspondence from this writer on his Twitter timeline, accompanied by derogatory comments. His posts prompted some of his followers to post their own abusive tweets.
The proposed Yzermyn coal mine lies within the water-rich, protected grasslands of the Ekangala/Drakensberg strategic water source area – one of 22 such areas that collectively comprise just 8% of South Africa’s land yet provide half of all surface run-off water in the form of wetlands, streams and rivers.
Environmentalists argue that coal mining is highly destructive and poisonous to the environment, and is not compatible with biodiversity conservation of pristine areas like Mabola that provide invaluable “ecosystem services” like water. If the project is allowed to continue, the proposed coal mine in Mabola will set a dangerous precedent that will expose all of South Africa’s protected environments to encroachment from mining and other destructive and non-sustainable land uses, they say.
But Mabola is also within an area marked by extreme poverty and unemployment where many local residents are desperate for jobs. So it’s understandable that the possibility of some 500 work opportunities – albeit unskilled – at the proposed mine is highly attractive to some of them.
Residents of Mabola get water from a spring. Photo supplied
The social media invective against coalition members and its lawyers has increased significantly over the past two months as several of the legal challenges to the coal project approach adjudication. The first, an appeal to the Water Tribunal to overturn the water licence granted to Yzermyn, is set down for hearing from Tuesday to Thursday this week.
On 29 June, Nene’s The Voice organised a public meeting in Volksrust that was billed as an open forum debate “to clear misconceptions about the proposed mining project near Wakkerstroom”. Nene posted on Facebook that an invitation had been extended to the management of Atha Africa and that it had confirmed its attendance. “That very progressive Atha management,” he said approvingly.
An invitation was also extended to members of the coalition and the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) but it was declined. The Centre told Mining Weekly it would not be appropriate for it to take part in a public debate because of the extensive pending litigation in the matter.
Its refusal prompted a string of Twitter insults from Tripathi, including: “Is the Cenre (sic) for Environmental Rights afraid that it’s lies would be nailed in the #communitywantstoknow initiative by the community? They said the mine will threaten Gauteng and have national and intntnl (sic) impacts. Why don’t they explain the ‘how’ to the community?”
After the meeting, attended by some 1,400 people, Tripathi congratulated Nene for “exposing” the “foreign-funded” and “treasonous” organisations “who have no sympathies and respect for the community”. This allegation of treason was picked up and repeated several times.
However, the only “evidence” they produced to back the allegation was publicly available documents from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) detailing some funding for two of the organisations in the coalition. SIDA is an official Swedish government agency of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, responsible for the bulk of Sweden’s official development assistance to developing countries and civil society groups – including South Africa’s democratic government.
The tactic of social media harassment is becoming increasingly common in South Africa and elsewhere in the world, where vulnerable communities and civil society organisations have been working to protect and promote environmental and social justice in the face of strong-arm and bullying tactics by some governments and big business – notably mining interests.
Threats and intimidation create an emotionally charged atmosphere that makes it harder for communities to achieve resolution, and in some scenarios can result in physical violence, injury, destruction of property and even murder.
A case in point is the tragic death in March 2016 of Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Radebe at Mbizana in Pondoland, who was leading opposition to the attempt by Australian mining company Mineral Commodities Ltd to mine mineral sands at Xolobeni. Although the Hawks have not made any progress in their investigation into Radebe’s murder – this was confirmed by spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi last week – it’s widely believed that he was assassinated because of his opposition to the mining proposal.
And as recently as this month, two activists opposing the relocation of a community in KwaDube in KwaZulu-Natal, supposedly to accommodate onshore mining operations between Mthunzini and Richards Bay, were also shot dead execution-style within days of each other.
Murray Hunter of the Right2Know Campaign says threats and attacks from mining companies are part of a bigger trend of corporations trying to bully their critics into silence. “We know from bitter experience that those who go up against big-money mining projects often face worse than threats in the end.”
And Melissa Fourie of the Cape Town-based Centre for Environmental Rights – one of the main targets of the Yzermyn invective – says it’s a common pattern in South Africa. “Within our network of environmental rights activists and defenders, we see threats and intimidation of activists every day, most of these not reported or recorded.”
Neither Tripathi nor Nene responded to a question by this writer when asked whether they considered their respective tweets and/or Facebook posts to be inflammatory or possibly fuelling tensions with potentially dangerous consequences.
However, Tripathi responded on social media to a letter that was sent to Atha Africa’s attorney by the Centre for Environmental Rights, drawing attention to Tripathi’s “inaccurate and defamatory” statements about the Centre. The Centre’s letter noted: “Particularly concerning is that some statements are threatening, and have the potential to incite violence.”
On Twitter, Tripathi accused the CER of being defamatory and of “costing South Africa tens of thousands of jobs and development opportunities” – “The responsibility sits on you,” he charged.
On 5 July, Nene posted a statement on Facebook: “If it’s war they want, it (sic) war they will get”, and added a response to several replies to this statement: “They are busy blocking development that’s suppose to change the life’s. They should just return the damn land once, & they should refrain from threatening us with civil war or economic meltdown.”
Jen Gleason of the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide says attacks on people who stand up for vulnerable communities and the environment are on the rise around the world, and that her organisation works with public interest lawyers around the world who are putting themselves at risk daily.
“Powerful interests, inside and outside government, use violence, threats, prosecution, slander, regulatory burdens and more to cut off those defending human rights,” she says. This exposes grass roots advocates “to great personal risk”.
Hunter of Right2Know says it rejects the “corporate bullyism” of Atha-Africa. “We need to protect… critical voices, not just for the sake of environmental governance, but to ensure that corporations working in South Africa respect free speech and freedom of association.”
The R2K statement is now available – attached, and see here online: https://bit.ly/2mqhmYC
19 July 2018
JOINT STATEMENT: We strongly condemn attacks on civil society organisations and activists!
The undersigned organisations condemn the recent vicious attacks on environmental justice activists in South Africa.
In one case, we are outraged at the reported murder on 11 July 2018 of Mr D Mpanza, an activist who had opposed a relocation of the community in KwaDube in KwaZulu Natal. KZN violence monitor Mary de Haas has reported that people living on this land have been informed by various authorities that they must be relocated to accommodate onshore mining operations between Mthunzini and Richards Bay. According to De Haas, Mr Mpanza was shot dead, execution-style, on 11 July when travelling home from Esikhawini. Of the companions he was travelling with he alone was targeted.
In another case, we note an escalating campaign of social media attacks by those associated with an Mpumalanga mining project, on a number of South African environmental rights organisations. The campaign is led by the senior vice president of Indian-owned mining company Atha-Africa Ventures Pty Ltd, which is facing multiple legal challenges from these organisations to its applications to mine coal in a strategic water source area and protected environment in Mpumalanga.
This campaign is made up of various accusations and threats on social media which are designed to intimidate, silence and discourage activists who are lawfully opposing a coal mine in a strategic water source area and protected environment. He has publicly accused these organisations of “treason” and an “anti-national agenda”. These unfounded attacks are intolerable in our Constitutional democracy.
The South African Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of expression, freedom of the press, the right to access to justice, and the right to just administrative action. South Africa also has a long tradition of activism and civil society mobilisation to uphold our Constitution and defend Constitutional values.
More than two years have passed since cde Bazooka Rhadebe, an anti-mining activist in Xolobeni, was assassinated on the Wild Coast in 2016. To date nobody has been brought to book for his murder. Across the world, corporations have employed intimidation and violence when their commercial interests are challenged by activists, especially activists defending natural resources and environmental rights. The murder and assault of environmental activists are already common occurrences in many parts of the world.
We strongly condemn both physical and verbal attacks on civil society organisations and activists.
In the case of Mr Mpanza, we call for the speedy arrest and successful prosecution of his killers, and immediate protection for other residents who oppose the relocation in KwaDube. Furthermore we call for the authorities to give full information and participation to the community on this proposed relocation, and respect the voices of those who oppose it.
In the case of Atha-Africa, we call on the Minerals Council of South Africa (formerly the Chamber of Mines) to state publicly that it will revoke the membership of any company whose employees engage in this type of conduct. The mining authorities cannot remain silent when companies operating in South Africa unlawfully intimidate and threaten activists exercising their Constitutional rights.
For media comments contact:
Biko Mutsaurwa, R2K NWG Member: 079 915 5220
Ngazini Ngidi, R2K NWG Member: 071 105 2507
ONLINE VERSION: https://bit.ly/2mqhmYC
Note to media: Please attribute contents of this statement to the mentioned organisations not to any individuals unless you contact a spokesperson for specific comments.
 These organisations include Centre for Environmental Rights, the Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of South Africa, groundWork, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, BirdLife South Africa, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, the Association for Water and Rural Development (AWARD), the Bench Marks Foundation and WWF South Africa.
TUDOR SHAFT INFORMAL SETTLEMENT: THE FSE'S DECADE OF WHISTLEBLOWING, LOBBING AND ACTIVISM FINALLY RESULTING IN RELOCATION AND REMEDIATION
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Cape Town - Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Energy has urged the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) to speed up its pace in trying to assist the Tudor Shaft community in Gauteng, where high levels of radiation were detected.
The FSE conducted a tour of the West Rand gold fields, DRD Gold’s and Sibanye-Stillwater’s operations and Gold Fields’ South Deep operations with an investment analyst of Perspective Investment Management on the 25th of June, 2018.
The FSE conducted a tour of the West Rand gold fields on the 2nd of July 2018 with Mr Nick Holland, the CEO of Gold Fields and concluded the tour with a visit to Gold Fields’ South Deep Mine.
Embattled North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo has set his sights on the wildlife reserve within the province, propose a bill last week that would repeal the north West Parks board. Should the bill be passed, the North West government would have full access to all the wildlife resources within the province. The wold-renowned Pilanesberg National Park and Game Reserve is one of the parks in jeopardy .-Saturday Star
The FSE participated in the 20 years of Environment Impact Assessment in South Africa in Durban on Wednesday, the 16th of May 2018. The FSE was invited by the Department of Environmental Affairs to present on behalf of civil society on the subject matter. The FSE’s presentation and the DDG: LACE’s presentations are attached hereto.
See also Saturday Star of May 19 2018’s article titled “Striving for balance.”
The FSE participated in the 2nd Nuclear Regulatory Information Conference, which was held at the Indaba Hotel and Conference Venue in Johannesbug on the 16 – 18th of May 2018. The Conference was hosted by the National Nuclear Regulator of South Africa. The FSE was invited to present on the 17th of May 2018 on the subject “Remediation.” The FSE’s presentation is attached hereto.
Like most residents of the quaint riverside village of Vaaloewer, Gavin Aboud bought his large house overlooking the Vaal River for the promise of “peace and quiet”. “We moved here because this is our sanctuary,” says the burly-ﬁgured chair-person of the Vaaloewer Ratepayers Association, of his relocation from Bryanston, north of Johannesburg, a little over a year ago. ' Tucked between Vanderbijlpark and Parys, in southern Gauteng, the picturesque village touts itself as a “heavenly paradise” and an “oasis” for its scenic riverfront views. But Aboud’s refuge, he believes, is under threat because of the proliferation of sand mining projects on the banks of the river: “Look at those sand mines - they are right on top of us,” he says, frustrated, gesturing to mining operations opposite Vaaloewer. “It's like a desert. Nothing grows there. These companies are coming all the way down the river, but we can't allow it.”
In one of the latest applications, Goosebay Farm has applied to mine for sand, gravel and diamonds on the banks of the river. It recently ceased its sand mine run by Winners Point Trading 117, which held mining permits from 2010 to this year. It is listed in the Department of Mineral Resources’ 2017 list of operational mines as Pure Source Minerals Mining, with its owners as Goosebay Farm.