Appeal against provincial approval for mine in water hotspot heard in Nelspruit this week

This week, the coalition of eight civil society and community organisations challenging the proposed coal mine inside the Mabola Protected Environment outside Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga, is presenting their appeal of the environmental authorisation issued by the Mpumalanga environment department (MDARDLEA) for the proposed mine to an expert panel appointed by the Mpumalanga MEC for Environment.

The expert panel, sitting in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, will hear submissions from the Centre for Environmental Rights, representing the coalition, and from the mining company, Atha-Africa Ventures Pty Ltd. Thereafter the panel will make recommendations to the MEC on whether to uphold the coalition’s appeal and set aside the authorisation issued by MDARDLEA, or whether to reject the appeal and confirm the authorisation.

The coalition consists of the Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of South Africa, Earthlife Africa JohannesburgBirdlife South Africa, the Endangered Wildlife TrustFederation for a Sustainable EnvironmentgroundWorkAssociation for Water and Rural Development (AWARD) and the Bench Marks Foundation, and is represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights.

In addition to being a declared protected environment under the Protected Areas Act, the Mabola Protected Environment also falls within a strategic water source area that has been identified as incredibly important and strategic to protect in the interests of all South Africans. The proposed mine area is located in that part of the Enkangala Drakensberg strategic water source area which constitutes the headwaters of the Usutu River System, via the Assegaai River. The Assegaai River flows into the Heyshope Dam, from which water is inserted into the Vaal River System via inter-basin transfer. Accordingly, the mine area is a water source of the Vaal River System, which supports Gauteng’s water needs. The Usutu River flows through Swaziland and, after joining the Pongola River, flows into Mozambique, where it is known as the Maputo River. Accordingly, the health of the Usutu River System is also relevant to South Africa’s international obligations to Swaziland and Mozambique. All of these users will all be affected if the sources of those rivers are compromised. You can watch drone footage of the area here.

Atha was granted a mining right by the Minister of Mineral Resources in 2015, shortly after the declaration of the Mabola Protected Environment by the Mpumalanga MEC. Since then, Atha has received licences and approvals from the Mpumalanga environment department (the appeal of which is being heard this week), the Department of Water & Sanitation, and the Ministers of Environmental Affairs and Mineral Resources. All these approvals have been challenged by the coalition through internal appeals, a High Court judicial review of the mining right, and a High Court judicial review of the Minister of Mineral Resources and Environmental Affairs’ decision to approve mining inside a protected environment. The coalition also recently brought an interdict application to ensure that mining does not start without the requisite approvals.

Access copies of all the appeals and litigation in this matter here.

For media queries, contact CER Executive Director Melissa Fourie on mfourie@cer.org.za.