The Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) has, in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, granted the application for prospecting rights around the Vredefort Dome, a world heritage site, to White Rivers Explorations (WRE).
This prospecting right pertains to the Vredefort north-east-extension-west application area, which falls within the boundaries of the Ngwathe local municipality. It also includes portions of the farms: Woolridge, Excelsior, Vaalwal, Canford Cliffs, Dundee, Ndidiniwe, Weltevreden, Kitchener, Dorothea, Smaldeel, Modderfontein, Vryheid, Hazerbroeksrus, Morelig, Scafell, Lyndraai, Mara, Prospekt, Mooivlakte, Klipkuil, and Goedehoop.
The prospecting right comes into effect on the date on which the environmental management plan is approved.
The Vredefort Dome, which is about 120 km south-west of Johannesburg, is a representative part of a larger meteorite impact structure, and bears witness to the world's greatest known single energy release event.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation reports that the Vredefort Dome is the only example that provides a full geological profile of an astrobleme below the crater floor.
Recent media reports have indicated that even mining around the surrounding area of the Dome would be worrying. An article in The Star indicated that conservationists and local landowners had been fighting the application by WRE to the DME to embark on extensive prospecting for coal, gold and uranium around and within the Vredefort Dome.
Chairperson of the Vredefort Dome Conservancy Stephen de la Harpe, who was quoted in The Star, said that experts had indicated that open-cast mining would affect the whole ecology of the Dome in the long run and that, while prospecting was not the issue, if mining became a possibility then it would destroy the site.
"There are gold reserves but the problem is that the gold is very fragmented because of the meteorological impact. The only way is opencast mining, which would destroy the biodiversity," he added.
DME spokesperson Bheki Khumalo tells Mining Weekly that WRE was advised to exclude various properties affecting the Vrederfort Dome and the buffer zone. "The granted prospecting right does not affect the proclaimed area," says Khumalo.
Meanwhile, an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) spokesperson tells Mining Weekly that the IUCN is currently preparing a report on the state of conservation at Vredefort and it will be presented to the World Heritage Committee in June.
The IUCN reports that, as a general principle, it regards mining as incompatible with any World heritage site, adding that it is a "no go" principle that is recognised by industry lead bodies such as the International Council of Mining and Metals.
"This should be observed by all States that are signatories to the World heritage Convention," says the IUCN spokesperson.
Meanwhile, De la Harpe tells Mining Weekly that he government is in the process, in terms of the World Heritage Convention Act of issuing a regulation proclaiming the site as a World Heritage Site. He adds that government is currently consulting with landowners and once agreements are reached in principle on regulation, then the sight can be proclaimed as a heritage site.