Minister urged to end ‘mining as usual’ and prevent ‘land grab’ following unlawful prospecting process
Johannesburg – With opposition to a proposed coal mine on the border of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi park gathering pace, a coalition of community and conservation groups has written to the Minister of Mineral Resources, Ngaoko Ramatlhodi, denouncing the unlawful behaviour of Ibutho Coal and calling on him to rescind the company’s prospecting licence and reject its application for full mining rights.
The organisations have now written two legal letters to the Minister detailing their concerns with the process and providing him with very strong legal grounds to axe the project.
“This is another example of mining as usual. Ibutho Coal never consulted the people of Fuleni and never got official authorisation from the landowners, the Ingonyama Trust Board. They just went ahead as if they owned the land,” said Sifiso Dladla from Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA), a member of the umbrella group, Global Environment Trust (GET), which sent the legal letters.
“Ibutho Coal has acted like so many other mining companies in the past – ignoring the rights of local people, environmental concerns and due process. For all these reasons, Minister Ramatlhodi should stop this disastrous project and ‘land grab’ in its tracks,” said Dladla.
Along with fears that the mine would pave the way for an upsurge in poaching in the world’s greatest rhino sanctuary and threaten the World Heritage listed iSimangaliso wetlands downstream, the organisations argue that the granting of prospecting rights was fatally flawed and therefore unlawful because Ibutho Coal did not follow due process:
· The ITB first heard about the existence of the prospecting right in early June 2014 – eight years after prospecting work apparently began;
· Later in the month, the ITB discovered that the right had been extended in December 2012 up until December 2015;
· The ITB has never entered into a surface lease agreement with Ibutho Coal
“Ibutho Coal has been prospecting in Fuleni without permission from the landowner or any proper consultation with interested and effected parties for eight years – this is more than enough grounds for the Minister to act,” said Sheila Berry, spokesperson for the Global Environmental Trust’s Communities and Wilderness Alliance (CAWA), which launched the campaign to stop the mine.
“Everyone is opposed to this mine – local communities, conservationists and the South African public. The Minister should listen to all these voices and scrap the mine now. The fate of the world’s greatest rhino sanctuary, a famous wilderness area and the people of Fuleni are in his hands,” said Berry.
These views are echoed by the four affected communities in Fuleni, which are all united in their condemnation of the process pursued by Ibutho Coal and in their opposition to a huge open-cast mine on their land. All four communities are now electing committees to discuss their response to the mine – and to ensure that Ibutho Coal and the government has to take their rights and wishes into account.
“Villagers here are deeply unhappy about this mine. Ibutho Coal did not speak to us for years but now they are making all sorts of wonderful sounding promises. But we know the truth because communities affected by the nearby Somkhele mine have told us horror stories about the impact of the mine – and advised us to do everything we can to stop Fuleni from becoming another wasteland,” said Philaa Ndimande from Ocilwane, who was elected last week to the first of the village committees.
“Ibutho Coal thought they could ignore the people of Fuleni but we know our rights. Ibutho Coal and the government must give us all the necessary information and they must follow the law. And they must listen to us since this is still our land,” said Ndimande.
Along with the affected communities and more than 60 organisations that support CAWA, almost 50,000 people have signed a petition launched by the global campaigning organisation, Avaaz. The petition also calls on Minister Ramatlhodi to stop the mine – in places only 40m from the park fence – in order to preserve the park and protect people’s rights.
“We hope that the Minister will soon meet with community members and conservationists and that he will then decide to save Fuleni and protect iMfolozi, one of South Africa’s greatest natural treasures and a major source of jobs and income,” said Dladla. “But if the mine goes ahead, we will fight it in Fuleni and in the courts because the whole process has been flawed.”
“This is a democratic South Africa where everyone’s voice counts. Mining companies can no longer ride roughshod over local communities as they did under Apartheid and British colonial rule. Minister Ramatlhodi has the chance to show that there will be no more ‘mining as usual’ in South Africa – that people’s rights and our environment come before profits for a few mining executives and coal for China and India.”