By Tony Carnie
ALLOWING coal mining just 40m from the borderline of Africa’s oldest game reserve would set a dangerous precedent for other companies to start mining next to, or even inside, any protected environment across the country.
That’s the warning sent to national Environment minister Edna Molewa this week by attorneys acting for the Global Environmental Trust and several mine-affected communities in KwaZulu-Natal.
In a 70-page document objecting to the proposed Ibutho coal mine on the southern border of the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, Durban environmental
attorney Kirsten Youens said up to 5 000 tons of coal would be blasted out of the ground every day next to the fence line of the county’s oldest “wilderness zone”.
The historic wilderness zone, set up largely through the determination of rhino and wilderness conservation stalwart Dr Ian Player, includes the former royal hunting grounds of King Shaka.
Youens said there had been a national and international outcry against the mining proposal, yet Ibutho economic consultant Graham Muller had suggested the mining company pay R3 million a year to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife in compensation and also consider converting “a similar farm, game reserve or piece of land” into a new wilderness zone to compensate for the loss of almost 50% of the park’s pristine wilderness area.
Youens said Muller’s suggestion was “bizarre, naive and ridiculous”.
In her letter to Molewa and Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi, she said that allowing the environmental impact assessment to go any further “will set a precedent for other invasive mining activities to take place adjacent to or even within” other parks and protected areas.
Quite apart from the environmental impacts inside Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, the coal mine would also have “lifechanging” implications for thousands of rural villagers. This included the relocation of hundreds of people from their homes and the loss of farming and grazing land.
Those who remained close to the coal mine would also be subjected to high levels of coal dust pollution, blasting operations and other high noise levels for 32 years.
Despite a number of meetings with affected communities, many residents had still not been told which homesteads would be relocated, where these people would move to and how many local residents would get jobs at the new mine compared with outsiders.
“It would seem that an unrealistic perception has been planted (among residents) that should they allow the mining to take place, it will guarantee them employment and a
betterment of their lives. This is heavily misleading as the total number of local jobs that
the mine has indicated is only 214 in the 10th year of production.”
While Ibutho had predicted a future total of about 300 jobs, Youens noted that opencast coal mining required a larger proportion of skilled workers who would most likely be imported from other areas.
Some people had also complained that members of the tribal leadership had threatened to banish them from the area if they opposed the mine. Others said they were told they would not receive any compensation unless they signed social survey forms and provided their ID numbers.
Youens said an analysis of social survey forms suggested that 35% were blank, with just the name of the resident, their ID number and signature.
There was no evidence that consultants had conducted a thorough health impact study to assess the long-term air and water pollution risks.
The mine would also require large volumes of water and the consultants conceded that the Department of Water Affairs was unlikely to allow the mine to pump water from the nearby Mfolozi River.
This article appeared in the Mercury on August 6, 2015
All documents pertaining to this article can be found at https://saveourwilderness.org/documents-3/eia/