The National Water Tribunal has dismissed an appeal brought by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) against the Department of Water and Sanitation granting a water licence to Indian mining company Atha-Africa Ventures for the Yzermyn coal mine development, in Mpumalanga.
The CER appeal was heard by the tribunal on four separate sittings, totalling nine days and spanning nine months.
Atha-Africa senior VP Praveer Tripathi on Monday said the company welcomed the decision by the tribunal and described the CER’s appeal as “vexatious and opportunistic”.
The CER had alleged that the proposed mine posed an irreparable threat to the water resources in the area, including drying up wetlands and mountain streams, as well as contaminating ground and surface water, especially in the Vaal river and Pangola river system catchment areas.
Atha-Africa on Monday said the mine would have zero to little impact on water resources.
CER mining team head Catherine Horsfield, however, told Engineering News Online that the strategic nature of the area from a water perspective is what made the coal mine “irrational”.
“Since 2006, the sensitivity of the area has been acknowledged in a range of government published papers, which is before Atha-Africa acquired its prospecting right in 2011. For at least the last decade, a huge amount of research has gone into establishing which areas in South Africa provide our fresh water, given that we are a water-scarce country and that much of the country has been experiencing drought.”
She said the specific water source area near the proposed mine – the Nkangala strategic water source area – supplied water for a range of economic uses. For example, Gauteng receives water from the area through an interbasin transfer. It also supplies water to various towns and farms in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.
“The water tribunal acknowledged in its ruling that the mine will produce contaminated water and one of the reasons our clients are adamant that coal mining is not a rational development course for a strategic water source area is because it would be polluting headwaters of strategically important rivers.
“Ten per cent of water areas in the country are producing 50% of freshwater runoff, the last thing we should be doing in those areas is mine for coal,” Horsfield said.
She confirmed that “this was not the end of the road” and that the CER would challenge the matter further, following its review of the tribunal’s 140-odd page ruling.