This article appeared in the Mercury.
By Tony Carnie
THE names of all the beneficiaries and funders of a major new coal mine next to Imfolozi Game Reserve must be made public immediately, because public assets are at stake.
This is the view of Jeremy Ridl, Durban environmental attorney and co-founder of Earth Watch, a non-profit company set up to ensure accountability in planning applications and environmental impact assessments (EIAs).
“Public assets are up for grabs and it is imperative that the public knows who will benefit from their disposal,” he wrote in a letter to the provincial departments of Mineral Resources and Environmental Affairs this week.
Ridl said several rural communities in the Fuleni area near Mtubatuba were being asked to exchange their communal land rights for the opportunity to sell their labour to the owners of Ibutho Mining, a Joburg firm that plans to create an opencast coal mine on the southern boundary of the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park.
“Unless the community that is sacrificing its land rights is given shares in the mining company and benefits from the profits of the mine, this is not a fair exchange. The community should not be forced to accept this.”
Ridl said Earth Watch had called for full disclosure of shareholders in the Ibutho venture, “including shareholders of the shareholders”.
“It is not possible to assess the true benefits to the local and regional economies unless all the beneficiaries of the mining are disclosed.”
Searches of company records indicate that Ibutho has at least six shareholders – Peter Gain, Tom Borman, Jan Bronkhorst, Thembi Myeni, Pholwane Pege and Menzi Gqweta – most of whom also have connections to other corporate groups.
Ridl said it was important to “penetrate the corporate veils” behind which others might be hiding.
“If politicians or public figures are involved through ‘blind trusts’ and other such contrivances, this must be disclosed.”
“The legitimacy of the mine will be questionable unless there is also full disclosure of where the mining profits will be paid and to whom. The mineral deposits of the country are public assets and their exploitation is a public issue. There is no justification for concealing this information.”
Ridl raised concern that Ibutho’s environmental and public participation consultants appeared to have ignored previous comments submitted by Earth Watch about the “special characteristics” of the adjoining wilderness zone inside the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park.
They appeared to have a superficial understanding of the complexity of the wilderness concept, and unless this was remedied, the EIA process was open to appeal or judicial review.
He also raised concern that a new firm of public participation consultants appeared to have taken over the responsibilities of the environmental assessment practitioner, who was required by law to be independent and to act in an objective manner – even if this led to findings and views not favourable to Ibutho.
Ibutho Coal spokeswoman Megan Hunter said the firm did not wish to comment at this stage.