By Ian McCallum
This letter is an appeal to the sanity and wisdom of the national government and to Ibutho Coal (Pty) Ltd.
Thank you for the informative and chilling report on the proposed Ibutho coal mining venture on the southern border of the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi national park.
The southern section is a designated wilderness zone in the park. In other words, there are no roads, lodges or human influence in this section. They are there to be entered on foot and to exit again, with no human trace – a respectful tribute to the wild landscape and to the wild species that have inhabited these pristine areas long before the evolution of modern human beings.
My first, unforgettable exposure to this beautiful area was a four day and night wilderness trail with the Wilderness Leadership School in 1981. It was a life changing experience for me. Deep down, I knew that I had come ‘home’. Unable to articulate it at that time, I knew that I had entered a church with no dogma, no judgement and no demand, other than to respect the space of the wild ‘other’. But there was more. The Umfolozi as it was known then, was and to this day, is the source and crucible of a wealth of traditional human- animal stories of challenge and co-existence with the wild.
Apart from the many companions who have subsequently shared with me their stories about this area, I wonder how many others are experiencing what I feel right now – a sense of both outrage and despair … that there is something very wrong about this proposal … that once again, it is all about human opportunism disguised as economic progress.
It is in this light that this area needs to be understood and protected as a national treasure … that it is not for sale. It is true, the proposed open cast mining area ends at the border of the reserve, but we need to think again. As many of the thousands who have already voiced their protest against the mining proposal have stated, the visual and auditory boundary of the reserve is in danger of serious compromise. It will be like living next door to a neighbour with incessantly barking dogs, or whose outside lighting system is designed to frighten away the night.
I am relieved to know that the environmental impact study is yet to be done in which case, the boundaries defining the ethics of economic progress and its audio-visual trespass into the neighbouring wilderness area needs to be thoroughly understood and redefined.
Finally, I have a question for the decision makers and leaders of the Department of Mineral Affairs and of Ibutho Coal (Pty) Ltd … have you ever been to this Hluhluwe-Imfolzi wilderness area? If not, come and experience it for yourself. I will come with you. You will discover why this area is not only psychologically and spiritually significant to those of us who have been there, but of its significance as a priceless gift to future generations of citizens and visitors to South Africa.