Judge turns down bid for new coal mine

Pit was set to be dug in pro­tected area

Pretoria News - - METRO - ZELDA VEN­TER zelda.ven­ter@inl.co.za

THE Gaut­eng High Court, Pre­to­ria, yes­ter­day set aside the 2016 de­ci­sion of for­mer min­eral re­sources min­is­ter Mosebenzi Zwane and his late en­vi­ron­men­tal af­fairs coun­ter­part, Edna Molewa, to per­mit a new coal mine in Mpumalanga.

The mine was to be de­vel­oped in the Mabola Pro­tected En­vi­ron­ment near Wakker­stroom by Atha-Africa Ven­tures Ltd.

It is the South African sub­sidiary of the Atha Group, which is regis­tered in In­dia. Its BEE part­ner is the Bashu­bile Trust, of which the trustees in­clude Vin­cent and Sizwe Zuma, neph­ews of for­mer pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma.

The case was brought by the coali­tion of eight civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­clud­ing Min­ing and En­vi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice Com­mu­nity Net­work of South Africa, Earth­life Africa, Jo­han­nes­burg and Birdlife South Africa.

They are chal­leng­ing a range of au­tho­ri­sa­tions that have per­mit­ted the un­der­ground coal mine in a strate­gic wa­ter source area and a pro­tected area.

The Mabola Pro­tected En­vi­ron­ment was de­clared un­der the Pro­tected Ar­eas Act in 2014 in the Mpumalanga pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment as part of the dec­la­ra­tion of more than 70 000 hectares of pro­tected ar­eas in the Mpumalanga grass­lands.

In 2016, with­out pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion and with­out no­tice to the coali­tion, the two min­is­ters gave their per­mis­sion for a large, 15-year coal mine to be built in­side the Mabola Pro­tected En­vi­ron­ment.

The pro­posed mine is an un­der­ground coal mine named the Yz­er­fontein un­der­ground coal mine. The pro­posal is to use a con­ven­tional “bord-and-pil­lar” min­ing method, com­pris­ing the re­moval of large ar­eas of coal-con­tain­ing ore and to erect un­der­ground pil­lars of ore to sup­port the “roof” of the un­der­ground mine.

Apart from the sur­face in­fra­struc­ture, the largest part of its un­der­ground min­ing foot­print falls within the Mabola pro­tected en­vi­ron­ment, com­pris­ing wet­lands.

The court set aside the per­mis­sion given for the min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties and re­ferred the de­ci­sion back for re­con­sid­er­a­tion. This was on the ba­sis that the min­is­ters did not take their de­ci­sions in an open and trans­par­ent man­ner or in a man­ner that pro­moted pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Judge Nor­man Davis said: “It needs to be men­tioned that there is a dis­turb­ing fea­ture in the con­duct of the min­is­ters or their de­part­ments, which gave rise to one of the com­plaints of a lack of trans­parency. This is that the pri­mary ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the min­ing ac­tiv­ity sought to be per­mit­ted are based off-shore and their lo­cal BEE com­po­nent is, to an ex­tent, ‘po­lit­i­cally con­nected’.”

The judge said there was a com­pelling need for en­vi­ron­men­tal de­ci­sion-mak­ing to take place openly.

“As the ad­vo­cates who ap­peared for the ap­pli­cants put it, ‘eth­i­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal gov­er­nance and be­hav­iour is en­hanced sim­ply by ex­pos­ing it to the glare of pub­lic scru­tiny’.”

The per­mis­sion for this mine, given by Molewa and Zwane, was the first in South Africa for a new mine to be per­mit­ted in a pro­tected en­vi­ron­ment.

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