JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) − Anthracite miner Petmin has reiterated its hope that community issues and two court cases can be overcome and dealt with so that it can progress with the expansion of its Somkhele anthracite mine, about 85 km north of Richards Bay, in KwaZulu-Natal.
Expansion of the mine has been hotly contested in the nearby communities since the miner expressed plans to expand as the current orebody reaches the end of mine life.
Most notably, Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) subcommittee vice-chairperson Fikile Ntshangase was murdered on October 22 in her home over an alleged refusal to sign compensation agreements.
MCEJO has been challenging the 222 km2 area expansion of the mine.
“Petmin and Somkhele management continue to offer to the South African Police Service their full cooperation in the investigation into the brutal murder of Ntshangase. Our sympathies remain with her family, colleagues and friends,” reads a statement issued by Petmin.
Petmin, which operates the Somkhele mine through its 80%-owned Tendele Coal Mining subsidiary, is the primary source of economic activity for a community of 220 000 people in the area, according to Petmin.
However, for the mine to remain in operation after its resource is expected to be depleted in the next two years, Petmin plans to expand mining into a new area adjacent to the existing mine, but which is occupied by 145 households. The proposed expansion will give the mine a further ten years of mine life.
Petmin point out that mining rights for the expansion have been duly granted thus far.
Before the mine can be expanded, the 145 households will have to be resettled. Petmin has already negotiated compensation agreements with 128 households.
For reference, when the mine first opened, 225 household were resettled.
However, the overall resettlement cannot be undertaken until all the household come to an agreement. As such, Petmin says it is ready to negotiate with the remaining 17 households to bring the matter to a close.
“We are positive that we are going to agree with them because we are on talking terms with them,” says Somkhele mine manager Nathi Kunene. However, he notes that of the 17 remaining households, some are requesting more than what Petmin can offer, with these requests ranging between R3-million and R10-million.
Petmin also highlights that it has negotiated an agreement with the Ingonyama Trust in terms of which the householders will have a choice of land to which to relocate.
“We believe the resettlement terms will leave all households significantly better off than they currently are,” the miner states.
As such, he points out that Petmin is offering a minimum of R400 000, which is made up of a R200 000 upset allowance plus a structural resettlement of R200 000. “This is to ensure we are in line with International Finance Corporation guidelines to ensure people’s live are better.”
However, the average paid by Petmin to households willing to resettle is R750 000.
Besides the resettlement obstacle, Petmin notes that two court cases are also pending, preventing the mine expansion proceeding.
These cases were originally brought in the name of the local Somkhele branch of the MCEJO.
However, Petmin posits that, some months ago, seven of the nine executive members of the Somkhele branch withdrew their support of the cases and that these cases are now being pursued by the MCEJO legal adviser “without a mandate to do so”, other than from a distant MCEJO branch in an area that would not be affected by the closure of the mine.
One of the cases, which challenged the validity of the mine’s environmental permits, was dismissed with costs in the High Court, and is now pending appeal at the Supreme Court of Appeal.
The other challenges the decision of the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy to have granted the mining right. This case is due to be heard in the High Court during 2021.
“While we believe the cases lack merit, the expansion of the mine cannot proceed while they are under way,” states Petmin.
The miner adds that the consequence of the prolonged legal battle is that the two "questionable" cases are threatening the survival of a mine central to the area’s economic activity.
Petmin claims that a diverse and representative community forum, also representing organised labour at the mine, has strongly indicated its support for the continued operation and expansion of the mine.
Representatives of the Somkhele community – including the Mpukunyoni Community Mining Forum and the Mpukonyoni Traditional Council (MTC) – as well as trade unions, the National Union of Mineworkers and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, made calls on November 19 for the speedy finalisation of the two court cases so that community members and employees "could move on with their lives".
These community organisations and labour unions are represented jointly by DMS Attorneys in the court cases against the mine brought by MCEJO and GET Foundation.
They also reiterated calls that the ultimate closure of the mine would result in a loss in most of the community’s livelihoods, as about 1 600 people work directly for the mine, while 170 businesspeople who derive an income from the mine live in the area. Of these 170 businesses, the community representatives employ about 400 people, all of whom will suffer if the mine fails to attain its new ground.
Further, the organisations lay the blame on the stalling of the Somkhele mine’s expansion on MCEJO.
“We have a problem with MJECO, but not the executive of MJECO who are living within our community because those members are cooperating – they even agreed to withdraw the court cases levelled against the mine,” says MTC mining portfolio head Goodwill Mkhwanazi.
He claims that the people who want the mine to close are not living in the local community.