En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists fight Wakker­stroom coal project

CityPress - - Business - SIZWE SAMA YENDE busi­ness@city­press.co.za

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists have dragged an In­dian com­pany to court in a bid to stop it from min­ing coal in Mpumalanga with­out en­vi­ron­men­tal au­tho­ri­sa­tion or lo­cal plan­ning ap­proval.

Atha-Africa Ven­tures, in which two of Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s nephews have shares, in­tends to open its Yz­ermyn Coal Mine in Mabola, which is a pro­tected area in Mpumalanga near Wakker­stroom.

The com­pany got its min­ing li­cence from the depart­ment of min­eral re­sources in 2015 – af­ter the land was de­clared a pro­tected area.

The Cen­tre for En­vi­ron­men­tal Rights (CER) is con­cerned that if the mine goes ahead, it will en­dan­ger an im­por­tant wa­ter re­source, which is a source of four rivers – Usuthu, Tugela, Vaal and Pon­gola.

The CER, which rep­re­sents eight en­vi­ron­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions, ar­gues that the area has wet­lands, pans and grass­lands that, if min­ing is al­lowed, would be pol­luted and hurt wa­ter users down­stream.

Zuma’s nephews – Sizwe Christo­pher Zuma and Vin­cent Gez­inhliziyo Zuma – are trustees of Bashu­bile Trust, which has shares in Atha-Africa Ven­tures.

The case is sched­uled to start in the Pre­to­ria High Court next week.

CER’s min­ing pro­gramme head, Cather­ine Hors­field, said one ap­proval at is­sue in the in­ter­dict was the en­vi­ron­men­tal au­tho­ri­sa­tion is­sued by the Mpumalanga depart­ment of en­vi­ron­men­tal af­fairs last year, which the CER has ap­pealed.

“This au­tho­ri­sa­tion has been ap­pealed by the coali­tion, but the Mpumalanga agri­cul­ture MEC [Vusi Shongwe] has not yet de­cided on the ap­peal. Un­til such a de­ci­sion has been made, the au­tho­ri­sa­tion is sus­pended by law, and Atha-Africa can­not com­mence min­ing,” Hors­field said.

The other ap­proval the CER wants stopped is the ap­proval for change of land use from con­ser­va­tion and agri­cul­ture to min­ing, a le­gal re­quire­ment un­der the Spa­tial Plan­ning and Land Use Management Act. Hors­field said Atha-Africa Ven­tures had not yet re­ceived the necessary ap­proval from the Pix­ley ka Isaka Seme Lo­cal Mu­nic­i­pal­ity in Volk­srust.

“Be­fore launch­ing court pro­ceed­ings to stop the mine, the coali­tion re­peat­edly asked Atha-Africa to pro­vide an undertaking that it would not pro­ceed with­out these ap­provals. It has re­fused to do so. This left the coali­tion with no op­tion but to ap­proach the high court,” said Hors­field.

Aside from this ap­pli­ca­tion, the CER has also brought a num­ber of le­gal pro­ceed­ings against Atha-Africa, in­clud­ing:

The set­ting aside of the min­eral re­sources depart­ment’s de­ci­sion to grant the min­ing li­cence;

Ap­peal­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tal au­tho­ri­sa­tion the Mpumalanga en­vi­ron­men­tal af­fairs depart­ment granted;

Ap­peal­ing against the en­vi­ron­men­tal management pro­gramme that the depart­ment of min­eral re­sources approved; and

Ap­peal­ing against the wa­ter use li­cence that the depart­ment of wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion granted.

Doc­u­ments that City Press ob­tained in­di­cate that all the de­part­ments, ex­cept the Mpumalanga depart­ment of en­vi­ron­men­tal af­fairs, ini­tially de­clined to grant Atha-Africa Ven­tures the necessary li­cences due to the ad­verse con­se­quences of min­ing in the sen­si­tive area.

How­ever, the de­part­ments changed their minds and gave Atha-Africa the go-ahead.

Atha-Africa Ven­tures said it would op­pose the ur­gent in­ter­dict. It would seek costs, and puni­tive costs sev­er­ally and in­di­vid­u­ally, for bring­ing a ‘frivolous ap­pli­ca­tion where no ur­gency ex­ists’.

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