Coal mining in the Mabola Protected Area would have a devastating effect on the clean water supply to millions of people in Gauteng, other parts of South Africa and beyond for decades to come, a coalition of civil society organisations is arguing in the High Court in Pretoria.
The application by the coalition, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights, aimed at stopping Atha-Africa Ventures (Atha) from mining in the protected environment outside Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga, proceeded yesterday.
This was after Judge Norman Davis turned down Mpumalanga environment MEC Vusi Shongwe’s bid to postpone the application indefinitely.
Mabola is part of one of 21 strategic water resource areas which together form the catchments for 50% of the country’s fresh water supply.
Last week, Shongwe published a notice of his intention to exclude the properties comprising the area of the proposed mine from the protected area.
He said in an affidavit he had decided on this after receiving a petition signed by 8 500 community members. In it, they said inclusion in the protected area had caused a development freeze in a poor community which urgently needed jobs.
The coalition opposed Shongwe’s application, which they described as an abuse of power and a cynical attempt to get around their application.
The coalition’s advocate, Alan Dodson, pointed out that Atha’s black economic empowerment (BEE) partners included former president Jacob Zuma’s nephews, Vincent and Sizwe.
“We are in a country that has been literally ravaged … by corruption and capture and manipulation of state institutions,” he said.
“The potential for corruption in relation to authorisations to mine is huge. The BEE partners of Atha include family of the former president of SA. There was a compelling need for environmental decision-making that stood to benefit such connected individuals openly,” he said.
He argued that the primary beneficiaries of the mine would be based offshore and nothing suggested they would still be in South Africa to live up to their environmental responsibilities once they had earned massive profits and closed the mine.
Dodson submitted that the ministers had done everything possible to hide what they were doing and throw environmental organisations off their tracks. Thus, the coalition had only learned of their decision by chance.