This article was published in the Mercury on September 30, 2015.
By Tony Carnie
EZEMVELO KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife has come out strongly against coal mining on the borderline of its flagship Hluhluwe-Imfolozi game reserve, warning that the proposed mine would “destroy” large sections of Africa’s oldest game reserve and wilderness area.
Noting that it had a legal duty and mandate to protect and conserve the biological environment of the province, Ezemvelo said it could not “wilfully sacrifice” a reserve dating from 1895, or attempt to create a new wilderness area somewhere else in the province to replace it.
In a letter to the provincial Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, the conservation agency said it was the primary trustee of the world-renowned park and was duty bound to “manage, conserve, and sustain” biological diversity in KwaZulu-Natal.
Referring to plans by the Ibutho Coal company to set up an opencast coal mine just 40m from the southern boundary of the Imfolozi wilderness area, Ezemvelo acting chief executive Dr David Mabunda said he was “deeply concerned” about the proposal and called on the department to advise Ibutho to drop its plans immediately.
Mabunda said a draft environmental impact assessment (EIA) report by Ibutho consultants indicated that a coal mine so close to the reserve would cause “a significant and probably immitigable threat” to parts of the reserve.
Ezemvelo said the report appeared to contain “significant bias, gaps and shortcomings”, some of which seemed so significant that they warranted a full peer review process.
Nevertheless, based on Ibutho’s own version of the likely environmental impacts, it was now apparent that mining could create serious and irreversible damage.
Mabunda said that Ibutho’s consultants had suggested the destruction of significant areas of the Imfolozi wilderness area could be “offset by finding new areas of wilderness”.
The 32 000ha wilderness area was formally established largely through the efforts of legendary conservationist Ian Player, on land previously reserved as a royal hunting ground for King Shaka.
Mabunda said it would be “impossible” to simply create a new wilderness.
“No equivalent wilderness area exists, nor can one be created ? It is our formal position that, even if the wilderness is wilfully sacrificed – which it cannot be – the nuisance posed by the mine to its established neighbour, the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, cannot be avoided, minimised or remedied and therefore cannot be lawfully allowed.”
Mabunda said Ezemvelo was reluctant to engage any further with Ibutho.
“We therefore earnestly request that Ibutho be advised to withdraw its application to avert any further costs and the unnecessary angst and expectations.”
Ezemvelo was also concerned about the potential for significant social and civil unrest on its boundaries since coal mining would involve the relocation of significant numbers of people “either forcibly or through coercion”.
It is understood that several members of the board of Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife also have serious concerns about the mining proposal.
But board chairman Comfort Ngidi told The Mercury last week that the board wished to engage with Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu before making any public statements on the Ibutho controversy.
A spokesman for Ibutho Coal said that they would respond to Ezemvelo’s criticism today.