Maputo - The Industrial Development Corporation on Thursday declined to comment on environmental studies of its aluminium smelter in Mozambique.
IDC public relations manager Mandla Mpangase referred questions to the president of the Mozal aluminium smelter about a controversial planned six-month shutdown of filters at the factory in November.
Mozal was majority-owned by mining giant BHP Billiton, which also owned a smelter in Richards Bay. Other shareholders included the IDC, the Mitsubishi Corporation and the Mozambican government.
The plant would emit poisonous gases such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide for six months, starting in November during a “bypass” while repairs were done to its two fume towers.
It was situated outside the Mozambican capital Maputo and around 100km from the South African border.
Mozambican and South African environmental groups had questioned whether the bypass was the safest option during repairs, since 700,000 people live around the factory.
They also said the company did not consult properly with the community before applying for the permit to bypass.
Environmental organisations Justica Ambiental, LIVANINGO and Centro Terra Viva, development organisation Kulima, the League for Human Rights and think-tank, the Centre for Public Integrity, last month submitted a petition signed by 14,908 people to the Mozambican parliament to halt the bypass until “illegalities” about the permit were cleared up.
Mozal's industrial partners had also complained that they were not consulted about the bypass.
Mozal said the emissions would not endanger the population and released documents for public perusal at the Mozambican department of environmental affairs (Micoa) after pressure from media and NGOs.
Sapa could consult the documents at Micoa but was not allowed to make copies. Officials said BHP Billiton had not granted permission for copies to be made.
Key documents, including the Environmental Management Plan (EMP), were not available in English and the permit was not available for consultation.
BHP had not released electronic copies of the studies despite repeated media requests.
Activists had accused the company of double standards because it made the documents available in hard copy and electronically to interested parties concerning its activities in South Africa, but neglected to do so in Mozambique.
If the documents were not made available to organisations, they could not be peer-reviewed to check that the bypass would be above board.
The IDC was a development institution owned by the South African government.
Its mission is to “contribute to the generation of balanced, sustainable economic growth in Africa and to the economic empowerment of the South African population, thereby promotion the economic prosperity of all citizens,” according to its website.