By Vivien van der Sandt
Conservationists opposing the plan to establish a 20km-long, partly open-cast anthracite mine within metres of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game park, have called on the Department of Mineral Resources minister to halt the application immediately, even before the environmental impact study is undertaken.
Global outrage followed after the “Save Our Wilderness” campaign was launched last weekend, announcing the plan to mine at HiP. An online petition is attracting a signature almost every minute, with almost 1 000 names being added every day, as people from around the world lodge their protest.
The petition, “Say NO to Ibutho Coal and its Fuleni Anthracite Project!” was posted on Avaaz.org, and a Facebook site called “Save our Wilderness” on May 1 by Sheila Berry, deputy chairwoman of the Wilderness Action Group, and an office bearer of several other wilderness and environmental organisations.
It read, “We call on Susan Shabangu, SA’s Minister of Mineral Resources, to reject Ibutho Coal’s application for an open cast coal mine on the boundary of the famous iMfolozi Wilderness Area”. The group hopes to get at least 100 000 signatures.
The lobbyists are hoping immediate mass action will nip the project in the bud before the Environmental Impact Assessment is embarked on.
The comments period officially ended on May 2, but Berry yesterday announced that the lobby group had managed to get that period extended to May 12.
Karl Wiggishoff of IDM Consultants, who are handling the public participation process, said they were still registering IAPs yesterday, and hundreds of emails were flowing in.
The iMfolozi Wilderness Area was the first proclaimed wilderness in Africa, in 1895. For locals and foreigners, it has a near-mythical status as the place that forged the unique friendship between Dr Ian Player and Magqubu Ntombela, and also where the white rhino was saved from extinction.
Berry, who is also fighting the Drakensberg cableway project, told Daily News, “We got wind of the plan only a few days ago, as the “consultation process” was about to end on May 2.”
They believe the mine could get the go-ahead on June 6 to proceed to the next stage, which is the Environmental Impact Assessment.
Environmentalists say the mine will not only damage the area’s ecosystem, but also create a porous border for rhino poachers to get into the game reserve, which is famous for its project that saved the white rhino from extinction.
Respected local conservationists and bodies, and international wildlife bodies, have thrown their support behind the protests. Among them is conservationist Ian Player. International supporters include The Gaia Foundation, WILD – USA, the Wilderness Specialist Group of IUCNI, SFO/USA, WWC and the World Wilderness Congress.
SA supporters include The Wilderness Foundation, The Global Environmental Trust, The Wilderness Action Group, The African Conservation Trust, The Magqubu Ntombela Foundation, the Game Rangers Association of Africa, and the Makhado Action Group.
The recently-formed Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA), representing communities from eight provinces affected by mining, yesterday stated their intention to register as an Interested and Affected party.
Conservationists point out the coal mine is only 40m to 70m from the park boundary fence, and the stockpiles will be 70m high. As an open-cast mine there will be blasting which will affect the animals and the environment.
The area is famed for its Wilderness Trail. The noise and artificial light intrusion into the Wilderness Area will impact on the wildlife and birdlife and spoil any sense of wilderness.
Berry said, “We cannot allow this to happen. We want the process stopped even before it reaches the environmental impact assessment stage. The response of the public, locally and abroad, shows that the eyes of the world are on iMfolozi. It is an area of great historic significance and cannot be desecrated by a coal mine.”
Ibutho Coal submitted an application to the Mineral Resources Department last year, for a mine bordered by the Umfolozi River to the north, the Richards Bay railway line to the south and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve to the north-west. The mine covers more than 14 000ha, and cuts across 20km of rural Zululand countryside.
There will be opencast and underground mining, and Fuleni’s estimated life span is 32 years.
The Daily News approached one of the listed directors, Thembisile Constance Miyeni, several times yesterday for comment, but had received none at the time of going to press.
Thembi Myeni, as she is generally known, has a chequered past in the Durban tourism industry, and also worked for Business Against Crime, during which time she partnered with the National Intelligence Agency.
The other five directors listed for Ibutho Coal are Jan Johannes Bronkhorst, Menzi Egbert Gqweta, Peter Kennedy Gain, Pholwane Locksley Daniel Pege, and Thomas Ignatius Borman: They have listed various addresses in Vryheid, Durban, Pretoria and Johannesburg.
Mineral Resources spokesperson Ayanda Shezi said, “The application was accepted by the Department on the 27th January 2014, advising the applicant to go and consult and to submit Environmental Management Plans – EMPs.
“The department currently awaits submission of EMPs which will be sent out for consultation with other government departments and KZN Ezemvelo Wildlife.
“The public can voice their objections during the EIA consultations and copy the department. It is incorrect to say the right will be awarded imminently as it is still going to be consulted on.”
The environmentalists say:
- The proposed development conflicts with objectives of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HIP) and would definitely fall within a buffer zone.
- Though the mine is not in a protected area, the close locality of the mine (40 metres from the HIP/Wilderness Area boundary) runs counter to the growing international recognition that protected areas are No-Go Areas for mining and extractive industries because of the incalculable value of these areas and the threats posed to biodiversity and sustainability. Two important international documents to consider are: WILD10 Resolution 2013 and IUCN’s Recommendation 2.82 (2000) stating that mining should not take place in IUCN category I–IV Protected Areas. Even mining industries have committed themselves not to mine in protected areas, e.g. International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) in its Position Statement on Mining and Protected Areas, September 2003;
- Whilst 6.4% of South Africa area falls under formal protection, less than 1% is protected as wilderness. The iMfolozi Wilderness is one of SA’s oldest wilderness areas and is protected as such under section 41(2) (g) of the Protected Areas Act with direct designation under section 26 underway.
- The proposed mine would eliminate a nationally approved plan to extend protected areas, which is aligned with the IUCN and UN’s global strategy to move towards socio-economic and environmental sustainability through fostering important links between wild places and sustainability goals, and simultaneously contributing to improved livelihoods for communities within the area.
- Mining is one of the greatest contributors to climate change and global warming. Current coal reserves planned for the South African market exceed the South African government’s ‘required by science’ commitments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The South African government should not be commissioning a new coal mine when all the evidence points to the country needing to stop coal mining altogether if it is to meet global targets to reduce climate change.
- Engagement with the local community seems to have been superficially addressed with community members not being adequately informed of all the socio-economic ramifications. Substantive evidence needs to be provided to back the statement that Fuleni mine will indeed provide 200 jobs, before it is presented as one of the benefits of the mine. During the planning, scoping and EIA phases, most proposed mines promise more jobs than is actually realised when the mine becomes operational. The more skilled jobs tend to be reserved for non-local residents.
- A growing body of research shows that, in the longer term, far from improving livelihoods and creating jobs, mining creates few jobs, for a few people, for a few years (20 years); but ultimately mining leads to a loss of livelihoods. Nationwide, while there has been a 59% increase in the number of operating mines, employment generated by mines has only increased by 15%, or approximately 118 new jobs per new mine. A World Bank study showed that African countries whose economies were based on mining failed to reduce poverty significantly and that the ‘benefits’ from mining do not reach the poor.
- Similar developments on the boundary of the iMfolozi Wilderness Area have been associated with an increase in criminal activity within the communities and also impacting on HIP. The Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park retains a critical role in rhino conservation by providing a refuge for the densest concentration of rhino in the world. The HIP is already under serious threat and any further dangers to its rhino population, a national and world heritage beyond price, should not even be contemplated.
- There is evidence of Stage Age settlements in the area and it has been sacred to the Zulu people since the time of Shaka. The iMfolozi Wilderness Area was the first wilderness area declared in Africa, in 1958, and it is situated in the historic Hluhluwe-iMfolozi-Park, the oldest protected area in Africa, proclaimed in 1895. Since the Wilderness Area was opened to the public in 1959, it has become sacred for many thousands of local and international visitors who have been on trail. The iMfolozi Wilderness Area needs to be respected and held sacred for current and future generations. It is vitally important to preserve the integrity of an area that is steeped in South Africa’s history, and in no way should the Wilderness Area be compromised.