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The fight to protect the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape and its surrounding area from coal mining was taken to the next level with a number of actions taken by civil society and a government department.
On Tuesday 3rd August 2010, a coalition of civil society organisations, concerned about the recent granting of a mining right to Limpopo Coal (Pty) Ltd by the Department of Mineral Resources, (the applicants), launched interdict proceedings against Limpopo Coal (Pty) Ltd and the Minister of Mineral Resources. Limpopo Coal (Pty) Ltd is a subsidiary of the Australian mining company Coal of Africa (CoAL). The applicants are represented by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies and include the Mapungubwe Action Group, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the Association of Southern African Professional Archaeologists, Peace Parks Foundation, World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa, BirdLife South Africa and the Wilderness Foundation South Africa. These applicants are all concerned with the protection and maintenance of the environmental integrity of the area in and around Mapungubwe for current and future generations as it relates to the natural habitat, ecosystems, cultural heritage and related aspects of the environment.
The interdict application arises from the granting of a mining right to construct and operate an open cast and underground coal mine known as the Vele Colliery, and the associated approval of the Environmental Management Programme, by the Department of Mineral Resources. Much of the applicants’ concern relates to the location of the Vele Colliery and the impact that the mining and related operations will have on the unique and sensitive landscape within which the Vele mining area falls.
The Vele mining area is situated on 8500 ha and lies less than 6km from the borders of the Mapungubwe National Park and is adjacent to the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape which has been declared a World Heritage Site. The area is a national treasure given its enormous historical and archaeological significance as well as the abundant biodiversity that exists in this ecologically sensitive landscape. The significance of the area has been recognised by South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana and in 2006, the three countries entered into an agreement to establish and develop a Transfrontier Conservation Area with the Mapungubwe National Park at its core.
The applicants have lodged internal appeals against both the decision to grant the mining right and the decision to approve the Environmental Management Programme. These appeals are pending and the applicants have at this stage not yet received any answering papers. The applicants have therefore launched the interdict application in an attempt to prevent further destruction of the area while the legal disputes are pending.
In the interim, on Thursday 5th August 2010 the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) confirmed that its Environmental Management Inspectorate, or as they are more commonly known â€˜the Green Scorpions’, issued a Compliance Notice to CoAL to cease with activities that are in contravention of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA). The Notice relates to CoAL’s non-compliance with the provisions of the NEMA in that they are said to have commenced with activities listed in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations promulgated in terms of the NEMA without the required prior environmental authorisation. These activities include the construction of roads, the above ground storage of dangerous goods, activities within the 1:10 floodline of the Limpopo River, the construction of a sludge dam and the installation of a water pipeline network. The compliance notice instructs CoAL to cease all construction related activities on the access roads and roads falling within, and outside the mining right area, within 24 hours of issuance of the notice. The notice further stipulates that all the other activities listed above, including the construction of pipelines, storage facilities and the dam, and the removal of vegetation must cease in time frames ranging from 24 hours, 48 hours, to 3 days respectively, on receipt of the Notice. The mine is also not permitted to increase the current development footprint.
The applicants have heard from a number of sources that CoAL has already ceased much of its activity on the Vele site, which offers welcome but possibly only temporary relief from the ongoing destruction of this site which began with the commencement of the construction activities. The Green Scorpions will be monitoring the Vele Colliery as failure to comply with the instructions in the Notice would result in further charges to the criminal investigation that is already underway. Commencement of an EIA listed activity without an environmental authorisation constitutes an offence in terms of Section 24F of the NEMA. Upon conviction for such an offence, a person is liable to a fine not exceeding R5 million or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding 10 years or to both such fine and such imprisonment.
Coal of Africa can object to the compliance notice and request a suspension from the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs in relation to all or some of the instructions set out in the notice. However, the instructions in the compliance notice must be complied with pending the outcome of any suspension or objection application to the Minister.
The applicants are delighted that construction activities on the Vele site appear to have stopped as the damage done to this site on a daily basis over the past few months is largely irreversible. We fully support the action taken by the DEA to enforce the regulations under the NEMA and to demonstrate that their role as custodians of South Africa’s precious natural and cultural heritage is not to be taken lightly. South Africa has a powerful suite of environmental legislation which is too often flouted in the face of short-term commercial gain and at the cost of the right of future generations to also benefit from our remarkable natural wealth. We are therefore pleased with the stance taken by the DEA and hope that this is a small beacon of hope for this area, and many other sensitive landscapes under similar threat in South Africa.
Please support the fight to save Mapungubwe and its surrounding area for current and future generations from this and many other potential mining threats.