NEWS / 25 OCTOBER 2019, 10:04PM / SHEREE BEGA
A decision by the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs setting aside the environmental approval for a planned open-cast coal mine on the East Rand has been hailed as "excellent" for the region.
In her decision on October 20, Minister Barbara Creecy stated that it was vital that commercial agriculture be safeguarded in the Springs/Nigel area.
Local resident, business and environmental groups had appealed the Department of Mineral Resources' (DMR) approval of the integrated environmental authorisation for the proposed Palmietkuilen coal mine in March this year.
Creecy has now upheld their appeal, setting aside the DMR's decision.
The Grootvaly Blesbokspruit Conservation Trust, the Largo and Groovaly AH Residents and Businesses, Aston Lake Community and the Springs Nigel branch of the Wildlife and Environment Society of SA, were among the organisations who had brought seven appeals against the project.
In August 2016, Anglo Operations, on behalf of Canyon Coal, applied to build the open-pit coal mine. The project is anticipated to have a life of mine of 47 years, with the anticipated production of 2 400 000 tons of coal per year to supply local and international markets.
The proposed mine is upstream of the Blesbokspruit, which feeds the Marievale Bird Sanctuary in Springs and flows into the Vaal. It is a designated a Ramsar wetland of international importance.
In her appeal decision, Creecy notes how Hugo Arthur de Koningh, the second appellant in the matter, argued that agricultural land "has to disappear for the sake of economic development" and expressed concern that "food security became more threatened".
Creecy agreed."While I am aware of the social benefits of the proposed mining, I find that such does not outweigh the need to to protect and preserve the prime agricultural land.
"The said area has been utilised for agricultural activities for generations and can go on to be used for such provided soil disturbances are avoided."
"One of the biggest threats to the retention of productive agricultural land is the conflict between agriculture and mining land uses. With the matter at hand, I find that it is vital to preserve the current land use, mainly commercial agriculture," Creecy said.
"This is excellent news for Springs and the farmers of our area and our thanks to all who participated in the seven appeals that were lodged," said the attorney in the case, Philip De Jager.
"I would, however, point out that the applicant is entitled to have this decision judicially reviewed."
Local environmentalist Stan Madden, the "father of the Blesbokspruit", welcomed Creecy's decision. "I was one of the group of organisations (Springs-Nigel branch of Wessa) that were against the environmental authorisation in the Palmietkuilen area.
"I and others are very pleased with the Minister's decision not to grant this authorisation. It does give a little hope for the future of this sensitive wetland and agricultural heartland, Madden said.
Mariette Liefferink, the CEO of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, said it was "heartened" by Creecy's decision to uphold the appeal by interested and affected parties and to set aside the decision by the DMR.
"It demonstrates the power of active citizenry to ensure that development is ecological sustainable and economically justifiable.
"With South Africa being a water scarce country, with a rapid population growth that consumes a substantial amount of food and water, and vulnerable to the potential impacts of climate change and climate variability, the proposed open cast coal mine would have compromised sustainability and would have exceeded environmental tipping points," she said.
In their appeals, residents cited how an objection by the then Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries against the loss of high agricultural land was ignored by the DMR.
On September 25, comments were provided to Creecy by the now Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, indicating that the proposed mining activity is located within a proposed protected agricultural area, which has a priority rating of B.
"According to DALRRD, this means that this area is regarded as high potential agricultural land, which should be protected for agricultural production purposes," Creecy noted.
The directorate of spatial information management within Creecy's department was requested to do a screening of the proposed mining area, "which confirms that the site comprises mainly very sensitive agricultural areas", she said.
The DMR had stated that the impact on agricultural land was considered and assessed and studies had shown how the proposed mining activity "will have minimal and acceptable impacts on food security".
According the Draft Water and Sanitation Master Plan, high water yield areas constitute only 4% of South Africa’s surface area and are the water factories of the country. Currently only 18% of them have any form of formal protection. Furthermore, 57% of river ecosystem types and 65% of wetland eco system types are threatened, making wetlands the most threatened of all ecosystems.
In view of the above mentioned threats, the FSE, a member of the Coalition, who defended the protection of the Enkangala-Drakensberg Strategic Water Source Area, where Atha Proposes to mine coal, salutes the latest decision by the Constitutional Court.
Press statement attached.
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Successful Appeal against the Decision to Grant an Integrated Environmental Authorisation to Anglo Operations (Pty) Ltd in respect of a Mining Right Application relating to opencast coal mining on Farm Palmietkuilen. The FSE assisted and supported the 1st and 3rd Appellants, namely Largo and Grootvaly A H Residents and Businesses and the Grootvaly Blesbokspruit Conservation Trust with their Appeals.
Appeal decision attached.
The document is attached.
SATURDAY STAR article written by Sheree Bega - "Mintails mining site reduced to rubble"
“Look, there’s nothing left,” said the heavily armed security guard as he pointed to what remained of Mintails’ gold treatment plants, offices and adjacent infrastructure: rubble.
Read the rest of the article here.
Watch the SABC2 Mintails coverage here.
Notice of motion and affidavit issued by the FSE attached for referral.
SATURDAY STAR NEWS / 31 AUGUST 2019, 4:55PM / SHEREE BEGA
Mariette Liefferink, chief executive of the Federation for a Sustaiable Environment, has described Mintails Group’s Krugersdorp and Randfontein mining activities as one of South Africa’s ‘worst environmental catastrophes’. Picture: Boxer Ngwenya
Johannesburg - As a heavy wind blows over the West Rand, clouds of dust swirl from clusters of barren mine dumps towering over both sides of Main Reef Road, turning the skyline a ghostly white.
It’s a bleak scene that environmental justice activist Mariette Liefferink knows all too well.
“This is all Mintails’ and just look at how it’s been left,” says the chief executive of the non-profit Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE), gesturing to the unrehabilitated dumps.
She drives under a bridge, teetering over the busy road. The structure is collapsing from ongoing spillages during Mintails' operations, she says.
But after a decade of government inaction against the Mintails Group, the FSE has now turned to the courts to deal with what Liefferink describes as one of South Africa’s “worst environmental catastrophes”, left behind by the liquidated gold mining and tailings processing company that was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.
The FSE, represented by the Legal Resources Centre, has filed a landmark lawsuit against the Mintails Group, its liquidators, the ministers of Mineral Resources, Water and Sanitation, Trade and Industry, and Environmental Affairs as well as Mogale City local municipality in the North Gauteng High Court. In total, 34 respondents are cited in the litigation which seeks criminal charges against the firm's directors.
In her founding affidavit, Liefferink warns how the mining activities of the “chronically poorly managed” firm spanning Krugersdorp and Randfontein will have “catastrophic consequences” for taxpayers, future generations, the natural environment and human health".
Mintails applied for business rescue in October 2015, but was liquidated in September last year.
It has an unfunded environmental liability of R485million, but only around R25m financial provision in its environmental rehabilitation funds.
This will now be “externalised to the state, neighbouring mines, a mute environment, financially beleaguered local municipalities and communities characterised by widespread poverty and future generations”, reads her founding affidavit.
“The overall tab will be picked up by overburdened taxpayers who have little say in the ongoing corporate malevolence of the group.”
Liefferink details the firm’s “wholesale neglect” of its environmental responsibilities. This includes the “widespread abandoning of overseeing adequate and sufficient monitoring, mitigation, preservation, oversight, planning, and concurrent rehabilitation as part of their overall mining activities”.
It reclaimed only the profitable sections of the dumps, failing to rehabilitate any footprints.
“The Mintails Group have failed to complete the mining, removed the underground pillars (containing residual gold), failed to backfill and rehabilitate open pits and failed to secure the sites.
“Several polluted highly contaminated dams and open pits are easily accessible to school children, churchgoers and community members. These dams are toxic and potentially radioactive.
“I've witnessed churchgoers being baptised in these toxic swell pools and children swimming in them on hot summer days. Certain people have died - the mining area is open and an exceptionally dangerous area to be in.”
There is no signage, walling, fencing or lighting on the mined-out land and there has been "sporadic” dust control.
Polluted water from unrehabilated footprints and dumps has not been captured in lined pollution control dams. “The (firm’s) footprint has had a profound impact on surrounding wetlands as well as the catchment area. There have been ongoing spillages of acid mine drainage water and slurry, which has allowed acid mine water to seep from cracks in the pollution control dams into rivers and surrounding wetlands.
"There has been inadequate maintenance of the pipes and pollution control dams by the Mintails Group,” the affidavit reads.
Wetlands have become “potentially radioactive toxic dump lands” and the applicable mining area is now “ecologically dead”.
In 2009, the former Department of Water Affairs and the National Nuclear Regulator flagged Mintails for allowing acutely toxic water and slimes to migrate to the wetlands downstream of Lancaster Dam, part of the Wonderfonteinspruit catchment, the richest gold mining area in the world.
“The Wonderfonteinspruit is used for irrigation, watering of cattle, baptisms, recreational use, domestic use and at times for drinking purposes. It flows downstream into the Boskop Dam, supplying water to 400 000 people in Potchefstroom," the affidavit reads. "That Lancaster Dam has been allowed to deteriorate in the manner it has by the Mintails operation presents a direct risk to life and limb.”
But the relevant state departments failed to enforce legally binding conditions for the firm’s mining and environmental reports.
The Department of Mineral Resources should never have afforded the firm the right to operate without the necessary financial provisions.
“The Mintails Group has over the years argued it will ‘top up’ the financial provisions during the life of mine. It was on this basis that the Mintails Group were granted certain mining rights The financial provision has not materialised at all and if any, the areas has been wholly unrehabilitated.”
The FSE wants the court to order the various ministers to remediate and rehabilitate the environment by enforcing current directives and compliance notices against the directors and to “recover” funds from them to clean up degraded sites.
“Some subsidiaries have ‘shifted’ assets and liabilities between subsidiaries. This includes shifting a mining right (asset) to one subsidiary, whereas the environmental liability associated with the activities of the mining right has been shifted to another subsidiary with the entity holding the liability falling under business rescue and liquidation,” the affidavit states.
“It needs to be investigated whether the dispositions in the Mintails Group, specific to shifting assets and liabilities and ‘moving’ an environmental liability in the region of hundreds of millions of rands, was done for value and whether this was done fraudulently, alternatively recklessly and further alternatively with an intent to defraud creditors."
Liefferink details how the FSE has “literally begged” government departments to take action, “tirelessly submitting report after report” and conducting “well over 1 000” physical site inspections, to no avail.
“Despite issuing numerous pre-directives and directives and despite the FSE laying criminal charges (in 2014 against Mintails for non-compliance) the group and its board of directors in particular, have been allowed to carry on with business as usual.
“Without the relief sought, none of the roleplayers will even attempt to remediate and/or rehabilitate the environment. The sequence of events has been to to pass the buck, blame other departments and obfuscate.”
The state must “immediately do all things necessary, to cordon off affected mining areas and (ensure) safety mechanisms be adopted to safeguard the general public”.
“Indeed,” warns Liefferink, “people have already died and there exists an ongoing risk of poor public health, environmental catastrophe and even death regarding the areas and activities referred to, to the broader public.”
The Ministers of Minerals and Energy, Human Settlement, Water and Sanitation and the latter department's deputy director general have indicated their intention to oppose the matter.
Liefferink says the FSE's application is vital to address the governance of a company, “when the main benefactors of mining activities sit overseas and whereas the devastating consequences of their corporate greed is left to the poorest of the poor and overburdened taxpayers where the state has to intervene to prevent further degradation.
“The directors of Mintails need to be interrogated for their involvement in one of the country’s worst environmental catastrophes and to account to the public for their corporate decisions.”
Photographs of FSE's tour of the West rand gold field on the 31st of August 2019 with Law Faculty students (LLB & LLM) of the University of Pretoria and Senior Lecturer Melanie Murcott.
All photographs taken by Melanie Murcott.
Comments attached for download.
Background information document for coal, pseudocoal & torbornite mining right application, integrated water use license application and environmental authorisation, all portions (excluding portion 46, 74,& 90) of the farm Tenbosch 162 JU, all portions (excluding portion 01) of the farm Vyeboom 414 JU, all portions of the farm Turfbult 593 JU and all portions of the farm Tecklenburg's Ranch 548 JU, in the Magisterial district of Barberton, Mpumalanga Province.
Document attached for download.
The Draft Scoping Report is attached for download.
Attached is a document compiled by the FSE for the Environmental authorisation process for the Middlevlei mine, Randfontein.
The following related articles are attached:
Jozi Gold - a story of wealth, greed and poisonous mountains. Johannesburg has produced a third of all gold mined in history. Now the gold is running out, the mines are falling apart and toxic waste turns water into poison. Former Jehovah’s Witness Mariette Liefferink is on a mission to force the mine bosses to clean up.
Directors Fredrik Gertten and Sylvia Vollenhoven, based on an original story by Adam Welz.
Official trailer with English titles.