JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – A coalition of eight civil society and community organisations has launched proceedings in the Pretoria High Court against India-owned mining company Atha-Africa Ventures, asking the court to stop the miner from starting any activities inside the Mabola protected environment, located outside Wakkerstroom, in Mpumalanga.
The parties have alleged that Atha-Africa did not yet have confirmed environmental authorisation and local planning approval.
Represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights, the coalition, comprising groundWork, the Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of South Africa, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, Birdlife South Africa, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, the Association for Water and Rural Development and the Bench Marks Foundation, noted that If Atha were allowed to start mining now, and the approvals were thereafter set aside, the damage caused would be irreversible.
The area in which Atha-Africa wants to build an underground coal mine is a declared protected environment, with the water source area identified as strategic and the protection of that area in the interest of all South Africans.
Composed mostly of wetlands, pans and grassland, the area is a source of four major rivers – the Tugela, the Vaal, the Usutu and the Pongola. These rivers provide water to a significant number of downstream water users, who will be affected if the sources of those rivers are compromised.
Atha-Africa was granted a mining right in 2015 by the Department of Mineral Resources, shortly after the declaration of the protected area by the Mpumalanga MEC. Since then, Atha has received licences and approvals from the Mpumalanga environment department, the Department of Water and Sanitation, and Environmental Affairs Minister Dr Edna Molewa.
These approvals have been challenged by the coalition through internal appeals processes and a High Court judicial review of the original mining right granted. A further judicial review application of Molewa’s decision to approve mining in a protected area will be issued shortly.
The coalition is positive that it will succeed in all these proceedings and that the approvals will be set aside by the courts in due course. If necessary, the coalition says it will take this matter to the Constitutional Court.
The two approvals that Atha is being taken to task on include the environmental authorisation issued in 2016 by the Mpumalanga environment department under the National Environmental Management Act, as well as the approval for change of land use from conservation and/or agricultural purposes to mining, under the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act.
The coalition is appealing the authorisation, with the Mpumalanga MEC having not yet decided. Until such a decision has been made, the authorisation is suspended by law, and Atha cannot start mining.
Atha has also not yet received the necessary approval for the change of land use from the local municipality.
Before launching court proceedings to stop the miner from going ahead with construction of the coal mine, the coalition repeatedly asked Atha-Africa to declare in writing that it will not proceed without these approvals. Allegedly, the miner refused to do so.
The court application has been set down for hearing on June 27.