ASX-listed exploration and development company West Wits Mining’s South African subsidiary, West Wits Mining MLI, is facing resistance from some of the affected communities surrounding the West Wits Mining Project (WWMP), located west of the Johannesburg central business district (CBD).
As Mining Weekly reported last month, West Wits MLI has already submitted applications for two mining permits to the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) for the Kimberly West and Creswell Park opencast areas. The company has lodged a mining rights application (MRA) for the remainder of the proposed WWMP.
In addition to those areas, the WWMP includes a project which resulted from a DMR directive for the landowner to clean up and rehabilitate the Sol Plaatjies area to rid it of illegal mining. The landowner appointed West Wits MLI to remove easily accessible opencast ore, thereby assisting in combating illegal mining. The clean-up project has been operational since October 2016.
The Sol Plaatjies project has sufficient ore to sustain production at about 15 000 t/m for at least another eight months. West Wits MLI had hoped that both the new permits would be granted by the fourth quarter of this year, so that it could replace Sol Plaatjies production.
However, West Wits MLI chairperson Michael Quinert tells Mining Weekly that the company has delayed some preparatory work on the new projects to ensure that it addresses the community dissent expressed in the area.
Last week, the United Front of Roodepoort Residents Forums Against West Wits Mining Project (Roodepoort Residents Forum) – acting on behalf of the Fleurhof, Florida Park, Florida Lake, Georginia, Hamberg, Cresswell Park, Roodepoort CBD, Witpoortjie, Bramfischerville and Dobsonville communities – issued a statement that it was diametrically opposed to the expansion of the WWMP.
In addition to the usual health, safety and environmental concerns, the Roodepoort Residents Forum is also dissatisfied with previous consultations with West Wits MLI.
It is concerned about potential traffic congestion, strain on the City of Johannesburg’s electricity and water supply, the impact on property rights, and the risk to mining operations near the gas and fuel lines that run along Main Reef road.
The release stated that “mining will change the security and safety profile of our area” and would place undue strain on the local police services. The forum also expressed concern about potential harm to the dams in the area, as well as the Hammerkop bird sanctuary.
Quinert stresses that, although West Wits MLI recognises that the forum’s concerns are, in part, misconceived, it is nonetheless important that they are taken seriously and that further consultations are undertaken to allay them.
However, he also points out that the forum generally comprises communities north of the intended mining area, and that opposition to mining activity is not unanimous, as several communities within the mining area are supportive of the project.
The WWMP’s creation of new jobs will alleviate some of socioeconomic challenges in the area, thereby reducing crime, rather than putting additional strain on the police, Quinert says. “It will also rehabilitate land for much- needed housing development where it would otherwise have remained unremediated.”
Quinert notes that the company has started the environmental-impact assessment (EIA) processes, and that the company will comply with the stipulations of the DMR and commit to any initiatives set out in its social and labour plans.
He affirms that an ongoing consultative process comprising open-minded engagement from all affected parties could culminate in a resolution that results in the continued development of the WWMP to the mutual benefit of all parties.
Meanwhile, the Roodepoort Residents Forum commented: “We are still . . . collecting data and legal references to protect our community and environment . . . We will not stop until we achieve our goal, which is to cease mining in our residential area.”
Centre for Applied Legal Studies’ Mining and Environmental Justice Programme attorney, Louis Snyman, tells Mining Weekly: “South African law does not enable citizens to say no to mining.”
He explains that the country’s mineral resources are owned by its citizens and managed by the State on their behalf. Thus, there is no requirement for “free, prior and informed consent” with regard to citizens agreeing to mining activity. In essence, mining companies need only convince the State, which is ultimately supposed to make a decision that safeguards the interests of all its citizens.
Lately, rural communities, including those in the vicinity of the Xolobeni mineral sands project, in the Eastern Cape, have tried to use the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act (IPILRA) to halt mining activity on ancestral land. However, Snyman confirms that this particular avenue remains uncertain, as the relationship between the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act and the IPILRA is yet to be conclusively decided.
He adds that the EIA and MRA processes stipulate community participation, and that the forum can communicate their concerns during these processes. “The concerns must be recorded and responded to by the company. The regulator will then make a decision based on the consultations and the supporting documentation.”
If the State approves the mining activity, the affected community – having demonstrated that it was involved in the consultation process – could then try to overturn the decisions by appealing to the Department of Environmental Affairs. If the community is still unhappy with the outcome, it could then request that the High Court review the matter.
“This could result in a . . . protracted legal process . . . and it’s in the best interests of the developer to refrain from alienating the community and to take its concerns seriously,” Snyman concludes.