This article appeared in the Independent on Saturday, on October 3, 2015.
Conservationists outraged over proposed coal mine on HiP border
Private game farm and lodge owners in Zululand have expressed their “horror and outrage” at news that a coal mine could be developed right on the boundary of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park Reserve (HiP), which will not just destroy the status of the 32 000 hectare Wilderness component of the park, but severely threaten the viability of the entire reserve, KwaZulu-Natal’s oldest and largest “Big 5” protected area.
Their voices have joined the swell of opposition to this proposed Fuleni anthracite coal mine, evidenced in the formation of ICWA, (iMfolozi Community Wilderness Alliance) that has seen eight NGOs coalescing into one of the largest collection of environmental and conservation groupings in KZN’s history in opposition to the mine.
Conservationists pointed out that the proposed mine was only 40 to 70m from the park’s boundary fence and the stockpiles would be 70m high. As an opencast mine, there would be blasting, which would affect the animals and the environment.
Earlier this week Ezemvelo KwaZulu—Natal Wildlife came out strongly against coal mining on the borderline of the flagship Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game reserve, warning that the proposed mine would “destroy” large sections of Africa’s oldest game reserve and wilderness area.
According to a report published in The Mercury, the acting chief executive of Ezemvelo, Dr David Mabunda, said Ibutho’s own draft environmental impact study concluded that a coal mine so close to the reserve would cause “a significant and probably immitigable threat” to parts of the reserve.
Ibutho Coal submitted an application to the Department of Mineral Resources in 2013 for a proposed mine bordered by the Umfolozi River to the north, the Richards Bay railway line to the south and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve to the northwest. The mine covers more than 14 OOOha, and cuts across 20km of rural Zululand countryside.
There will be opencast and underground mining, and Fuleni’s estimated lifespan is 32 years.
“I am absolutely astounded to hear this news. It is a disaster waiting to happen and I don’t speak just as a conservationist, either: I am a businessman who views this idea as ﬂying in the face of one of the country’s major economic drivers: tourism and eco-tourism.”
“Any logical assessment of this mine, from both a community and environmental angle, will tell you it should simply never be allowed to happen,” said Guy Hamlin, shareholder and director of the Zululand Rhino Reserve.
Simon Naylor, reserve manager for Phinda Private Game Reserve, said he was aware of the threat, but could not establish who the owners of the Ibutho Coal mining company were, who were behind the motivation of this Fuleni coal mine.
“In itself, this is a horror story on so many levels. But what frustrates me is the lack of accountability with Ibutho Coal. Who are these shareholders who are willing to sacrifice so much beauty, history and heritage? What right-thinking person would, in one fell swoop, be prepared to effectively destroy the sustainable green economy that serves our people and environment?”
Naylor queried the “colossal insensitivity” towards one of South Africa’s greatest environmental assets. “What message is our government sending to allow Ibutho Goal to investigate this option? It tells me that there is total ignorance of the history of this park and the contribution it has made towards providing employment in the area. It is critical that someone informs both the Departments of Mineral Affairs and Environmental Affairs that tourism and eco-tourism hold considerably more promise for community upliftment than a coal mine.”
If our government allows a coal mine to be established at HiP, it would be no exaggeration to say that absolutely nowhere is safe... They would effectively be saying that if we ﬁnd coal reserves in the Drakensberg, well that’s fair game too.”
Dr Heinz Kohrs, member landowner of the Pongolapoort Biosphere Reserve in Jozini, spoke of the “horrendous legacy” that would be left on South Africa’s reputation if the mine was allowed to proceed.
“If our government allows a coal mine to be established there at HiP, then it would be no exaggeration to say that absolutely nowhere is safe throughout the country They would effectively be saying that if we find coal reserves in the Drakensberg, well that’s fair game too.”
He added that HiP was a major drawcard for tourists: “You have to evaluate the hugely negative impact this mine would have on the greater region. It appears to me that very little responsible and long-term thinking has gone into this.”
Yvette Taylor of the Lawrence Anthony Foundation, and speaking on behalf of the Thula-Thula Reserve, spoke of having visited the mining location in the Fuleni district.
“Aside from the ravages of the proposed mine, I have little doubt that allowing this area to be overtaken by an inﬂux of people will only increase the probability of further poaching. It is difficult to fathom how our government could even entertain this idea,” she said.
Speaking on behalf of ICWA, Sheila Berry reminded people that the mine posed not just an “overwhelming threat” to KZN’s principal Big 5 game reserve, but also threatened the relocation of some 16 000 local people from this area.
“There is a groundswell of absolute defiance among the seven villages comprising this Fuleni area. I urge everyone to grasp the enormity of this threat; to understand that not since the Lake St Lucia titanium mining campaign of the late 1980s has this province faced a more potentially catastrophic development.”
ICWA’s advocate, Kirsten Youens, said she had sent five letters to warn the Ibutho Coal mining company about their non-compliance and the “dismissive” manner in which they were proceeding with their feasibility studies.
“The entire consultation process they are supposed to have undertaken with all interested and affected parties, as well as the community, the Ingonyama Trust Board and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has been ﬂawed. For example, it is extraordinary that representatives of the mining company are telling Fuleni residents they are to be evicted from their homes to make way for the mine by marking various homesteads to be removed without any formal consultation whatsoever.”