By Tony Carnie
ALMOST 1 000 people stand to be removed from their homes to make way for the controversial coal mine planned on the southern border of the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi game reserve.
Several of the oldest residents facing relocation have already been shifted previously, having been forcibly removed from Empangeni in 1962.
After months of speculation on the precise scale of resident removals, a new impact assessment released by Ibutho Coal’s environmental consultants says that households could be required to shift to make way for six massive coal mining pits, mine dumps, coal stockpiles, pollution dams, roads and other mine infrastructure.
This includes homeowners who would have to move out of the 500m “danger zone” radius to avoid being struck by flying rocks thrown into the air during coal-blasting operations.
Based on Ibutho Coal’s estimate that each household in the area comprised seven to eight people, this translated to a total figure of between 868 and 992 people who stood to lose their homes.
In addition to home removals, three local schools may be lost, along with 248 graves, 25 vegetable fields, a livestock dam, 1 750 hectares of cattle grazing land and several spaza shops and small businesses.
For those who remained close to the mine, air quality studies suggested coal dust and air pollution levels in some places would exceed government-recommended health standards, but the report said there would be no need to move them because “the potential for a health impact is moderate to low as the dust created by the mine is not in high or toxic concentrations”.
A separate noise impact study found there was “quite a large area where the noise levels may be above the recommended noise standards”.
“However, the noise levels are not so high that it will cause hearing loss, but may lead to irritation and lack of sleep. It may also impact on the learning ability of children at school.”
Resettlement because of high noise levels was also not recommended by consultants. However, to reduce such major disruption to the communities, the mining company should consider mitigation strategies such as reducing the footprint of the six mining pits or re-aligning the new coal truck roads.
If Ibutho was able to implement these mitigation measures, it might be possible for the total number of removals to be reduced to 86 households (between 602 and 688 people) and to avoid relocating any schools. The number of grave relocations could also be reduced to 172, instead of 248.
The worst-hit residential area would be Ocilwane village, which would be surrounded by coal mining pits, coal dumps and other mining infrastructure.
The report suggested 84 households in Ocilwane stood to be relocated (no mitigation measures) or 70 households (with mitigation).
In neighbouring Ntuthunga village, 35 households faced relocation (no mitigation) or 16 households (with mitigation).
Another five households in the Patane area could be relocated, unless the proposed access road was changed.
For the past few months, angry Ocilwane residents have refused to allow Ibutho consultants to enter the area to complete a social survey.
Last year, when The Mercury visited this community, Induna Timothy Mthethwa said: “We have not even been told where we will be relocated – or how many of us. There has been no proper process of consultation. How are we expected to agree to something so far-reaching for our community when we don’t know exactly what is happening?”
To add insult to injury, Mthethwa recalled that his community had been uprooted from ancestral land near Empangeni in 1963 and shifted to a new settlement on the southern border of the Imfolozi game reserve.
Now, just over 50 years later, several hundred Ocilwane residents were likely to be shifted again to make way for coal mining, mostly for export.
A new Resettlement, Compensation and Mitigation Strategy published by Ibutho Coal anticipated that 86 households would have to move from two villages, while another six villages “will be affected by mostly nuisance effects and/or significantly impeded access due to their location or proximity to the mine”.
The document gave no firm indication of where the displaced Ocilwane and Ntuthunga community could be shifted to.
Those forced to move would have four choices:
They could take a lump sum cash payment and build new homes outside the area.
They could be squeezed into any remaining open areas in Ocilwane and Ntuthunga.
They could be relocated to new houses in neighbouring villages.
They could be moved to another part of the Mhlana district.
If they did not take the lump sum payment, they could either build new homes themselves or have new houses built for them by Ibutho, along with compensation for resettlement, loss of business opportunities, grazing and farm land, fruit trees, standing crops and other natural resources.
All graves would also be exhumed and re-interred “with all due ceremony” at the cost of the company.
This article appeared in the Mercury on 23 June 2015.