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Mining in biodiverse sanctuary approved

Oct 30 2016 09:54
Sizwe Sama Yende

An Indian mining company, of which two of President Jacob Zuma’s nephews are trustees, has been granted the right to mine in an environmentally sensitive area in Mpumalanga despite some government departments refusing authorisation.

Atha-Africa Ventures shareholder Bashubile Trust has Sizwe Christopher Zuma and Vincent Gezinhliziyo Zuma as trustees.

Atha-Africa has denied knowledge of this relationship and claims it does not benefit from it.

Documents City Press has obtained indicate that Atha-Africa failed in its bid to obtain mining licences from the Departments of Water and Sanitation and Environmental Affairs, and the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency, and its proposal was also opposed by the Department of Mineral Resources’ Mpumalanga office.

The department of mineral resources, however, granted the company the mining right last year.

The departments objected because the Mabola area near Wakkerstroom – the proposed site of the Yzermyn coal mine – is a critical water source for the country.

It is a source of three rivers – Vaal, Tugela and Pongola – and is biodiverse.

It has been declared a protected area under the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act.

However, the departments of water affairs and sanitation and mineral resources have told City Press the area was thoroughly assessed, hence the water licence and mining right were granted.

Both departments refused to comment after being approached with documentary evidence that the Yzermyn project had previously been rejected.

The documents indicate that Atha-Africa’s revised environmental management plan failed to provide a “sustainable measure to mitigate the impact of the proposed mining activities on the ... wetlands”.

Water affairs’ objection was that the “greatest flaw of this site [Yzermyn] is that it is situated within a National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Area … The department wishes to make it clear the opinions contained in this letter are made in the interest of responsible water resource management.”

The Mpumalanga Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs has refused to reply to written questions.

It is the only one of five departments that granted environmental authorisation to Atha-Africa this year.

Sources have indicated that Pinky Phosa, the former Mpumalanga finance, economic development and environmental affairs MEC, declined to grant the environmental authorisation in 2014.

Authorisation appears to have been granted after Phosa left the department after the general elections and the environmental component of her department was moved to agriculture.

Former mineral resources minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi granted Atha-Africa’s mining right despite all the objections, which has sparked a legal outcry.

The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) has taken the matter to the Pretoria High Court to review how the company was granted the rights despite overwhelming objections.

CER executive director Melissa Fourie said the fact that Atha-Africa held the prospecting right before the area was declared protected meant nothing.

“Once the area is declared a protected environment, mining is prohibited from that point onwards, unless permission is granted by both ministers [of environment and mineral resources].

“Atha-Africa was one of a number of mining companies that objected to the proposed declaration, and Atha made written submissions in support of its objection. The declaration was made after consideration of those objections by the MEC [Phosa],” Fourie said.

Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa has yet to decide whether to give Atha-Africa the go-ahead to mine in the protected area.

Molewa’s spokesperson, Albi Modise, said the minister would consult with Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane.

However, Molewa’s legal authorisations, compliance and enforcement deputy director-general, Ishaam Abader, objected to Atha’s application to establish the mine on May 16 2014.

In a letter Abader wrote to EcoPartners – Atha-Africa’s environmental consultants – he pointed out that the area had “a high occurrence of wetlands of very high importance” and was classified as a “National Freshwater Priority Area”, which was important for communities downstream.

The area, said Abader, was also listed in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act and was classified as irreplaceable in terms of Mpumalanga’s biodiversity plan.

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environment  |  mining

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