By Sheila Berry
Registered stakeholders received notification on Friday, 17 April 2015, from Lizinda Dickson of Naledi Development Restructured (Pty) Ltd that the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA) has accepted the amended Final Scoping Report for the Fuleni open cast coal mine on the edge of the iMfolozi Wilderness Area. This authorises Jacana Consultants to proceed with the environmental impact assessment (EIA) that will result in an Environmental Impact Report, the next step in obtaining a mining licence.
Several organisations submitted comments identifying serious inadequacies and major omissions in the amended report. All the input has been disregarded. This is seen as an indication that the authorities appear intent on pushing ahead with the mine, regardless. In response, GET has called for an urgent meeting with the authorities concerned to gain clarity on the reasons for overlooking so many critical factors. The FSR guides the EIA process. By accepting a seriously flawed document to guide the EIA process, the authorities are undermining the EI legislation and encouraging a shoddy EIA process. This is grossly irresponsible, given the sensitivity of the area under scrutiny. GET is determined to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure an adequate FSR.
The main issues are:
- Lack of water.
The FSR states there is no viable water source. This surely is a fatal flaw of such magnitude that it should not only result in the Scoping Report being rejected out of hand but stop the entire project in its tracks. The report acknowledges that Mfolozi is a water stressed river and that DWA is unlikely to grant a permit to abstract water directly from the river. There is also insufficient groundwater. Suggestions to use water from the Mvamanzi River that feeds the Mfolozi River amounts to the same thing as taking water from the Mfolozi! Impacts on the stressed river reserve have been determined, so on what basis DWA issues water licences remains a mystery. What we do know is that in 2003 the Mfolozi catchment had a deficit of 73 million cu (Basson & Roussouw, 2003) and the situation has deteriorated dramatically since then. There is no baseline information available that informs our understanding of the functioning of the Mvamanzi River and little thought is given to the needs of the Fuleni residents and their livestock.
- Buffer zones around protected areas.
The Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA) gave a clear directive to the environmental consultant to engage with Ezemvelo, the organisation responsible for managing the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP), and to finalise appropriate buffers for the Park before the Competent Authority would reconsider the scoping report. This is stated in paragraph 2(b) of EDTEA’s letter, dated 15 September 2014, rejecting the initial Scoping Report. The revised scoping report does not address the issue of buffer zones in any meaningful way and instead dismisses it. In a letter to the Department in Annexure C of the Scoping Report, Jacana Environmentals states that “in light of the fact that there is currently no legal buffer zone surrounding HiP, it is our opinion that the Scoping Report cannot be rejected on the basis that a buffer zone may be declared at some point in the future.”
It is GET’s opinion that, given the nature of the proposed activity – a noisy polluting open cast coal mine – and the sensitivity of the area – the first wilderness area in Africa and a sanctuary for threatened rhino, and the lack of information relating to coal mining activities on wildlife, the Draft Policy on Buffer Zones for National Parks/Notice 170 of 2010) should be considered in the Plan of Study. Although the document is in draft form and relates to National Parks, it needs to be read with the principles of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) which apply throughout South Africa. Mining activities within 40 meters of a Protected Area cannot be seen as sustainable. All the more so, if no due consideration is given to buffer zones.
Principle 2(4)(a) of National Environmental management Act
The KwaZulu-Natal Environmental, Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management Bill, 2014 (EPG No.4, 25 February 2015, section 25) provides for the establishment of buffer zones.
While the Draft Policy on Buffer Zones for National Parks and the Draft Bill for KZN are not yet published in law, they show the intent of the KZN legislature regarding the safe-guarding of protected areas. The attitude of the consultant and the developer in ignoring these developments gives cause for enormous concern about their integrity and the regard for the environment should this project be given the go-ahead.
- Alternatives to mining
The FSR also completely ignores the need and desirability, as highlighted in the Policy and the Bill, to consider acceptable and desirable alternative developments on the boundary of Protected Areas. Mining is not considered an acceptable activity. Suggested feasible and reasonable alternatives need to be assessed and the advantages and disadvantages considered, as well as the impacts of the environment and affected communities. The FSR considers the best option for the applicant, namely mining, and gives no consideration to the “no go” option or a “combination of alternatives” that does not include mining. There has been no assessment of the current land use in the Scoping Report and almost no effort put into the alternative land use options and alternative areas for mining.
Lack of consultation
The first Scoping Report was rejected by the Department because of lack of adequate consultation with various government departments, the landowner and the IAPs and stakeholders, particularly the affected Fuleni communities. The consultation to date is still totally inadequate. With the four affected Fuleni communities this is largely the result of the majority of residents being strongly opposed to the mine and having good reason not to trust or welcome the consultants.
Lack of transparency about who is behind Ibutho Coal (Pty) Ltd
SA’s mineral resources are public assets and their exploitation is a public issue. We therefore call for the full disclosure of the shareholders of the mining company and the shareholders of the corporate entities that hold shares in Ibutho Coal (PTY) Ltd.
There is no justification for Ms Eksteen’s response that the disclosure of this information is not a legal requirement in terms of NEMA or the MPRDA and that neither Ibutho Coal (PTY) Ltd nor Jacana Environmental cc is under any legal obligation to disclose such confidential information during the public participation process. The public have a right to know who will benefit from the mining activities at Fuleni.
The Value of Wilderness and the local economy
The current divestment campaign is affecting fossil fuel markets. Neighbouring Somkhele anthracite mine has experienced a 50% drop in the value of its shares over the last couple of years. In contrast, wild places are becoming increasingly valuable. The FSR has made no attempt to assess the current agricultural value of land or the value of the iMfolozi Wilderness Area in perpetuity. In rejecting the previous Scoping Report the Department of EDTEA identified the need for an agricultural assessment (paragraph 2(a) of letter dated 15 September 2015). A comprehensive resource economics assessment is essential in order to make a comparison between the projected economic benefits of the proposed Fuleni mine, with its predicted 32 year lifespan, and the sustainable benefits of HiP and the traditional lifestyles of the residents of Fuleni. A thorough understanding of the resource economics of the area, as well as its spiritual and psychological value, is essential to assess the currently unknown value of Fuleni and the iMfolozi Wilderness Area.
We believe these are areas of immense value for current and future generations and that we must do all that it takes to ensure they are conserved in perpetuity.