“Unity before Profits”
The fight is on! And it promises to be one of the most bitterly contested battles in KwaZulu Natal’s environmental history.
The proposed anthracite ‘Fuleni’ coal mine targeted for establishment on the south-eastern border of the world famous Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game reserve in Zululand has been confronted with the largest collection of environmental and conservation NGO groupings ever established in KwaZulu-Natal to oppose it.
On top of this, preliminary community-inspired and specialist academic investigation of Ibutho Coal’s draft Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIA) has delivered withering criticisms, describing it as “fatally flawed”.
The outrage greeting the location and potentially destructive impact of this proposed 32 year-long anthracite mine has been demonstrated by the coalescing of eight NGO’s (and numerous international voices) under the banner of ICWA; the iMfolozi Community and Wilderness Alliance. ICWA comprises the active support of the Global Environmental Trust (GET), groundWork, African Conservation Trust (ACT), WESSA, the Wildlands Trust, the Wilderness Leadership School, the Magqubu Ntombela Foundation and Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA).
“We have a local, national and international support base commensurate in voice, passion and capability with all those that fought the St Lucia sand mining proposal back in the 1980’s. The difference here is that a huge number of the local Fuleni community are vehemently opposed to it too – and their numbers are growing as they learn the true picture of this mines location and the devastation it will cause them”, said ICWA campaign director Sheila Berry.
Berry said no one should be under any illusion as to the “catastrophic impact” this mine’s location will have, both on community welfare and lifestyles as well as the greater Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP), including the collapse of the Wilderness status of the iMfolozi reserve.
“In every respect this coal mine represents the very worst of so-called development proposals. The mining company’s draft EIA, drawn up for legitimising the mine’s operation, has already been debunked by a whole host of professionals who have undertaken preliminary studies and responses to their report.”
ICWA’s legal representative Kirsten Youens submitted 70 pages of comments on the draft EIA to the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs .
“The overwhelming conclusion is not only that the document is fatally flawed and entirely unacceptable, but that the project as a whole should be rejected,” Youens said.
These studies, she said, demonstrated that the mining company Ibutho Coal has not addressed a vast swathe of fundamental considerations in advancing the social, environmental, economic and financial consequences of the mine’s operation.
Speaking on behalf of one of ICWA’s NGO members, scientist Roger Porter of the Global Environmental Trust (GET) said as things stand the Fuleni Mine poses one of the “most monumental threats” to people and bio-diversity in KwaZulu Natal’s history.
“As a scientist I approach matters thoroughly and factually. This mining proposal appears as nothing short of a ruse; to the Fuleni communities as well as the tourism, eco-tourism and sustainable agricultural economies of the region. It is truly alarming how little insight the mining company has brought to bear on the many irreversible and irreparable consequences this mine will cause to our environment,” he said.
Typifying this “casual and carefree” attitude Porter spoke of Ibutho Coal conceding that the Wilderness status of iMfolozi would be destroyed: “As if this admission wasn’t enough they instead talk of buying up a few pieces of land elsewhere and for conservation to off-set or provide an alternative Wilderness area. It’s quite staggering that this option is floated, bearing in mind the historical and cultural heritage of this untouched and internationally prized natural area; a place of national bio-diversity importance”.
The impact of seismic vibrations from mine blasting on black rhino breeding, elephant stress levels and the abandonment of nests of Red Data birds, to name only a few, Porter said was so severe that it threatened the entire southern Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park eco-system. In addition, the influx of outside or foreign workers and the additional traffic, posed an increased poaching threat.
In a repetition of the Lake St Lucia campaign, Ibutho Coal was also placing a “wholly unsubstantiated” emphasis on the number of jobs to be created by the mines operation.
He was reminded of the promises mining houses made to provide 190 jobs during the sand mining operation on the Lake St Lucia sand dunes: “Well, we proved then that not only was their figure flawed in both numbers and the longevity of this work, but that it paled against what conservation / tourism would offer in enduring and sustainable employment. This turned out to be some 400 at that time. I can assure you the same scenario will apply here”.
Porter described Ibutho Coal’s claim of establishing 334 jobs as equally “fanciful”.
“14 of these are described as skilled/supervisors and 320 “core” skills. There is nothing to support that the money they say they will invest will create anything like this many unskilled, or even semi-skilled work. Besides which, the work force will most likely comprise a high proportion of skilled workers who are likely to be imported than recruited locally. We believe the mine would create at most a maximum of 216 mainly low skilled jobs – and only in its 10th year of operation.”
Porter added the environmental damage the mine will cause has in no way been grasped or appreciated by the mining company or the relevant authorities.
“It is enough to say that because of its location next to the fence line of the iMfolozi Wilderness buffer area, the seismic vibrations, visual / noise / water pollution, infestation of alien plants, dust and scarcity of water will be appalling to both people and the wildlife of the area. The impact the mine will have on tourism, eco-tourism and ‘Sense of Place’ will be irreversible in its damage. It will definitively undermine the very thing thousands of people come to experience in this protected area, which after all has held this status for the past 110 years.”
ICWA’s Sifiso Dladla , commenting on the communities perspective, said opposition was growing as people became more and more familiar with the “hollow and broken promises” of other mining operations conducted throughout South Africa.
“The days have gone when business can hoodwink local people with promises of jobs and donations that don’t materialise, while they watch their lives disintegrate. As members of ICWA we are ensuring that people who have actually experienced mining on their doorstep are engaging with the Fuleni communities as to what to expect. It is not difficult. After all, this entire mine will mean that some seven communities representing between 12 000 and 16 000 people will simply have to move; their homes, schools, graves sites, agriculture etc.,” he said.
Dladla said the company had also not fulfilled its legal obligations in professionally and comprehensibly communicating with the Fuleni community as to the full impact the mine will have on their lives: “People are angry as they know important information is not being supplied nor are pertinent questions being answered”.
He appealed to the Dept. of Environmental Affairs to fulfill their legal obligation to hold the necessary workshops that would inform communities of the mines consequences: “To date these have just been repeatedly postponed”.
Other criticisms, amongst many, leveled at the mining company’s DEIAR included accusations that no air quality management plan has been done (84 million tons of methane – green house gas – will be released exacerbating climate change); no water reserve determination has been done to ensure supply of this basic quantity to keep communities and life in the rivers alive; no assessment has been done of the high pollution risk that discard dumps posed for the Wilderness Area and no assessment has been carried out of the pollution and the environmental and human health threats from wind-blown coal dust.
Berry said if there was ever a cause that could unite reasonable thinking, fair-minded people then it was their rallying behind ICWA’s efforts to ensure this mine never happens.
ICWA Chairperson: Sheila Berry firstname.lastname@example.org 0822957328
ICWA Legal representative: Kirsten Youens – email@example.com 0612266868
GET & MACUA spokesperson: Sifiso Dladla (firstname.lastname@example.org 0606305138)
Ocilwane community activist: Billy Mzokhona Mnqondo – 0791758593