By Christa van der Walt This article appeared in the Zululand Fever on the 25 June 2014.
OVER 47 000 people have already signed the AVAAZ online petition against the proposed Fuleni coal mine adjacent to the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game reserve.
In addition, well over 100 registered Interested and Affected Parties (IAPs) and the Community and Wilderness Alliance (CAWA) have called for specialist reports on, amongst others, water, wildlife, wilderness, dust and air pollution.
Calls have been made for a full analysis of the current value of the iMfolozi Wilderness Area and the land south of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP), including the eco-tourism value of a proposal to declare the area a nature reserve and incorporate areas of high biodiversity into the park.
Investigating the situation on the ground, local and foreign media had an opportunity on Tuesday to fly over Fuleni, a name that hit headlines in May this year when news broke of the proposed Ibutho Coal open cast mine, a mere 40 metres from the boundary fence of the famous iMfolozi Wilderness area.
The contingent also flew over the extensive Somkhele coal mine, operating since 2007, about 5km from the eastern boundary of the iMfolozi.
The contrast between the peaceful rural communities and the frenetic activity of coal trucks, dredgers, heavy earth moving equipment, and the coal washing plant, was dramatic.
This was confirmed by a visit to Ocilwane, one of four Fuleni communities identified for relocation. To date, no mention has been made of where Ibutho Coal intends moving these people.
The granting of two prospecting licenses, allowing over 2 000 boreholes to be dug in the area were discussed.
Community members claim that Ibutho Coal and Jacana Consultants have failed in their legal duty to consult fully with the Fuleni communities and say recent visits have been full of promises of jobs, wealth, bursaries, and an end to poverty in the area, with no mention made of the negative impacts of an open cast coal mine operating 24/7 on one’s doorstep.
Residents have direct experience of Somkhele, about 12km away, with regards to blasting and coal dust.
According to documents, the mine should create about 200 jobs. Most Fuleni residents will qualify for the lower paying jobs while more skilled positions will go to outsiders who will move into the area and bring social disruption.
One of the elders, Bhekukwenzelwa Ndimande, expressed concern about the fate of the wildlife in iMfolozi if the mine goes ahead: “We will be the last generation to see White and Black Rhino. The mine will make it easier for poachers to enter the park. The dust from the coal will also poison the water and the wildlife will die the same way as our cattle have inexplicably started dying.”
Despite this opposition, Ibutho Coal seems determined to press ahead with the mine at speed and Jacana Consultants has stated its intention to complete the final scoping report by the end of June 2014 and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) by the end of September 2014. If they manage to adhere to this schedule, then the decision to grant the mining license will be made on 27 January 2015.