Coalition objects to Environment MEC’s further attempt to erode Mabola Protected Environment

11 October 2019 - In January this year, the Coalition of civil society organisations who have been challenging mining company Atha Africa’s proposed new coal mine inside a Strategic Water Source Area in Mpumalanga, welcomed the decision of Mpumalanga MEC Vusi Shongwe to withdraw his notice of intention to exclude properties proposed for mining from the Mabola Protected Environment.

MEC Shongwe had published his intention to exclude the proposed mining area from the Mabola Protected Environment in October 2018, and called on the public to submit their comments and objections. The Coalition submitted a comprehensive objection to the proposed exclusion in December 2018.

Inexplicably, on 9 August 2019, MEC Shongwe again published notice of his intention to exclude the proposed mining area from the Mabola Protected Environment. The Coalition has now submitted a comprehensive objection to this second proposed exclusion.

That objection details how the 2018 exclusion notice was published days before the High Court hearing of the Coalition’s application to review and set aside the decisions of former Ministers Molewa and Zwane, under the Protected Areas Act, to grant Atha-Africa Ventures (Pty) Ltd (Atha) permission to mine in the Mabola Protected Environment.

On the strength of that notice, the MEC sought a postponement of the hearing. The High Court refused the postponement, with punitive costs against the MEC, and set aside the Ministers’ decisions, also with a punitive costs order – a judgment Atha has attempted to challenge 4 times – thus far unsuccessfully.

The Coalition’s objection asserts that publishing his intention to exclude the properties proposed for mining a second time smacks of an attempt by the MEC to circumvent the Ministerial permission required by Atha to mine in the Mabola Protected Environment – permission which must be sought from Ministers Creecy and Mantashe. There is no rational or justifiable basis for any exclusion, particularly in the light of available science and policy highlighted in the Coalition’s objection.

The Mabola Protected Environment was declared under the Protected Areas Act in 2014 as part of the declaration of more than 70 000 hectares of protected area in the Mpumalanga grasslands. This followed years of extensive research and planning by a number of government agencies, including the then Department of Environmental Affairs, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the Mpumalanga Tourism & Parks Agency.

That declaration gave formal protection to this area; important from a biodiversity point of view and strategic from a water source perspective.

It is clear from the MEC’s Notice that the purpose underlying the proposed exclusion is to facilitate the development of Atha-Africa Ventures (Pty) Ltd’s (Atha) proposed Yzermyn underground coal mine.

The bases for the Coalition’s objection to the MEC’s proposed exclusion of the area include the following:

Catherine Horsfield, Mining Programme Head at the Centre for Environmental Rights, and attorney for the coalition says “The intended exclusion remains indefensible. Should the MEC persist with it, it will be taken on review to the High Court and likely set aside.”

The eight coalition members are the Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of South Africa, groundWork, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, BirdLife South Africa, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, the Association for Water and Rural Development (AWARD) and the Bench Marks Foundation.

For media enquiries, please contactCER attorney and Mining Programme Head Catherine Horsfield on 021447 1647

Images by Sean Ripley and CER