Min­ing threat to 3 bil­lion years of evo­lu­tion in SA

Firm sets eyes on buf­fer of Ma­galies­berg Bio­sphere

Saturday Star - - NEWS - SHEREE BEGA

WHEN con­ser­va­tion­ist Vin­cent Carruthers trekked through one of his favourite places on Earth with a col­league re­cently, he was stunned by the drone footage that emerged.

It re­vealed thou­sands of hectares of land “stripped like moon­scapes” on the edges of the in­ter­na­tion­ally-pro­tected Ma­galies­berg Bio­sphere Re­serve, from min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

Carruthers played a piv­otal role among the small group of ded­i­cated en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists who lob­bied for al­most a decade for the Ma­galies­berg – he de­scribes it as a “great moun­tain range that has wit­nessed the whole span of life from its very ori­gins” – to ul­ti­mately be­ing de­clared a UNESCO Bio­sphere Re­serve in June 2015.

“The Ma­galies­berg is a crit­i­cally im­por­tant en­vi­ron­ment in South Africa… It’s al­most 100 times older than Mount Ever­est and half the age of the Earth, a unique trea­sure in this part of Africa...

“If we mess it up, we’re de­stroy­ing ev­i­dence of nearly 3 bil­lion years of evo­lu­tion.

“It’s not just about pre­serv­ing this pretty land­scape; it’s about pre­serv­ing se­ri­ously deep her­itage,” he says.

Along with a group of other re­gional en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, he is con­cerned about prospect­ing and min­ing ap­pli­ca­tions that lo­cals warn pose a dan­ger to the re­serve, in par­tic­u­lar an ap­pli­ca­tion by Kay­well Hold­ings.

The firm has ap­plied for a min­ing prospect­ing right for dolomite ag­gre­gate and lime­stone min­ing on 45 hectares in the Hennops River, which lies in the buf­fer of the bio­sphere.

Res­i­dents of the ar­eas sur­round­ing the pro­posed prospect­ing site, in­clud­ing mem­bers of the soon-to-be­pro­mul­gated Croc­o­dile River Re­serve ad­join­ing, have ap­pealed to the De­part­ment of Min­eral Re­sources and en­vi­ron­men­tal au­thor­i­ties to de­cline any min­eral prospect­ing ap­pli­ca­tion and “pre­vent this pris­tine Unesco buf­fer zone from be­ing re­duced to quar­ries”.

“Min­ing is dam­ag­ing the sus­tain­abil­ity of the bio­sphere and un­der­min­ing the com­mit­ment the gov­ern­ment made to UNESCO to pro­tect this unique re­gion and pro­mote its en­vi­ron­men­tal in­tegrity,” said the non­profit Ma­galies­berg Bio­sphere Re­serve (MBR) man­age­ment com­pany.

“Prospect­ing and min­ing within the bio­sphere buf­fer zone are un­de­sir­able,” re­marks An­drew Mur­ray, the chair­per­son. “The ap­proved man­age­ment plan for the MBR is clear – that there is al­ready an over-reliance on min­ing within the Ma­galies­berg re­gion.”

It was for­mally ap­pointed to man­age the bio­sphere un­der the agree­ment be­tween the gov­ern­ment and Unesco. “The fur­ther in­tru­sion of min­ing in a zone in­tended for tourism, recre­ation and con­ser­va­tion is con­trary to the ap­proved and adopted man­age­ment plan.

“The in­ter­na­tional com­mit­ment that the De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs, North West and Gaut­eng made to Unesco is to re­duce in­va­sive de­vel­op­ment such as min­ing in both the core and the buf­fer zones, while sup­port­ing ac­tiv­i­ties with sound eco­log­i­cal prac­tices, in­clud­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion, recre­ation, eco-tourism and sci­en­tific and so­cial re­search.

“Any ap­pli­ca­tion for prospect­ing is con­trary to that in­tent and must be re­jected.”

In a re­cent ur­gent ap­peal to au­thor­i­ties, in­clud­ing Unesco, Gary Wat­son, who lives in Lae­zo­nia, Cen­tu­rion, high­lighted how Kay­well’s ap­pli­ca­tion rep­re­sented an “im­mi­nent threat” to the Bio­sphere Re­serve’s in­tegrity.

“The pur­pose of this ap­peal is to visu­ally lo­cate the lo­ca­tion of the ap­pli­ca­tion for a prospect­ing li­cence in the con­text of the re­serve and to pro­vide ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing this na­tional her­itage which has been omit­ted by the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ment prac­ti­tion­ers ap­pointed in this ap­pli­ca­tion…

“We’re gravely con­cerned the grant­ing of a prospect­ing li­cence within the buf­fer zone poses a sub­stan­tial risk to the in­tegrity of the bio­sphere, the con­sid­er­able ef­fort and re­sources ex­pended by gov­ern­ment and vol­un­teer re­sources to have the bio­sphere de­clared a Unesco Bio­sphere Re­serve.”

The Bio­sphere Re­serve, stated the DEA in 2015, is en­dowed with scenic beauty, unique nat­u­ral fea­tures, rich cul­tural her­itage value.

It is also of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal in­ter­est as it in­cludes the Cra­dle of Hu­mankind.

“The area con­tains rich flo­ral bio­di­ver­sity, a num­ber of fau­nal species, and over 45% of the to­tal bird species of south­ern Africa.”

The cur­rent land­scape, say lo­cals, is undis­turbed and eco­log­i­cally pris­tine. It forms part of the Aloe Me­an­der and bor­ders the Croc­o­dile River na­ture re­serve bio­di­ver­sity stew­ard­ship project.

But the com­pany’s en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sul­tants state that if ap­proved, its prospect­ing ac­tiv­i­ties will be non-in­va­sive, lim­ited to around 1ha and “hence will have no en­vi­ron­men­tal or so­cial im­pact”.

But lo­cal res­i­dents have crit­i­cised the ba­sic as­sess­ment re­port, pre­pared by its con­sul­tants. “The (en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment) prac­ti­tioner (does not) mo­ti­vate why th­ese im­por­tant bio­di­ver­sity as­sets are less im­por­tant than pro­vid­ing for the eco­nomic needs of a hand­ful of peo­ple for this site,” writes Mer­cia Komen, an­other lead­ing fig­ure be­hind the cre­ation of the bio­sphere, in her com­ments on the firm’s doc­u­ment.

“The bio­sphere re­serve con­cept is im­por­tant, es­pe­cially in SA, be­cause of the con­flict be­tween ex­treme poverty and the need for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and to pro­tect price­less nat­u­ral as­sets,” says Carruthers.

“When it comes to min­ing, it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to mine and not dam­age the en­vi­ron­ment. The flip­side is that min­ing can pro­vide em­ploy­ment in the re­gion, but the eco­nomic ben­e­fits are short-lived. Min­ing dam­ages the sur­face of the earth per­ma­nently.”

Jenny Cor­nish, chair­per­son of the Croc­o­dile River Re­serve, says the re­gion is home to ir­re­place­able bio­di­ver­sity that is pro­tected in en­vi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion.

“There’s no green space left any­where in Gaut­eng - it’s not about con­ser­va­tion, but our sur­vival. This is what cleans our air.”

The Ma­galies­berg is a crit­i­cally im­por­tant en­vi­ron­ment in South Africa… the Unesco site is al­most 100 times older than Mount Ever­est and half the age of the Earth, a unique trea­sure in this part of Africa.

This map shows the lo­ca­tion of Kay­well Hold­ings’ ap­pli­ca­tion in re­la­tion to the Ma­galies­berg Bio­sphere Re­serve.

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