South Africa 30.8.2018 06:20 am

Civil society Davids to square up with mining Goliath

The Usutu River headwaters in the Enkangala Drakensberg Strategic Water Source falls under the Mabola Protected Environment Area, and flows through Swaziland, Mozambique, and the Heyshope Dam in the Vaal River System. Photo: James Oatway/Centre for Environmental Rights.

The Usutu River headwaters in the Enkangala Drakensberg Strategic Water Source falls under the Mabola Protected Environment Area, and flows through Swaziland, Mozambique, and the Heyshope Dam in the Vaal River System. Photo: James Oatway/Centre for Environmental Rights.

The fight is over the Mabola protected environment in Mpumalanga, one of the 22 strategic water source areas, where AAV wants to mine.

A three-year fight between eight nonprofit and civil society groups and a mining house wanting to mine coal in an ecologically sensitive area, as well as two state departments seemingly bent on ensuring the mining happens, is set to resume in the High Court in Pretoria on October 16 with a judicial review of permissions given to mine in the area.

The opposing parties are: Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, BirdLife SA, Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of SA, Endangered Wildlife Trust, Bench Marks Foundation, groundWork, Federation for a Sustainable Environment, and the Association for Water and Rural Development.

They are represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) on one side, and Atha Africa Ventures (AAV), the departments of environmental affairs and mineral resources.

The fight is over the more than 80 square kilometres of the Mabola protected environment in Mpumalanga, one of the 22 strategic water source areas, and is a water source of the Vaal River, which is already under stress.

The area was declared protected on January 22, 2014 in terms of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, 2003.

According to CER’s 2016 appeal to the mineral resources department, the underground and surface areas of the mine would be located within the Wakkerstroom-Luneberg Grasslands which is classified as endangered.

CER claimed the underground area lay within a kilometre of a department of environmental affairs’ designated freshwater ecosystem priority area, while the entire surface and underground areas of the mine fell within an area identified by the department in the Mining and Biodiversity Guideline, 2013, as having the highest importance for biodiversity and being at the highest risk from mining.

AAV is an India-owned company. It proposed to create an estimated 550 “direct job opportunities” and “ensure a development income spent in SA exceeding R1 billion” among other plans.

October’s judicial review application is one of several launched by CER on behalf of the group.

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