Shock over Vaal mine rights
Jacques Pauw, Beeld
Johannesburg - A controversial mining company has been given the rights to go prospecting for coal in at least 162 spots next to the Vaal River.
The Department of Mining awarded the prospecting rights without notifying landowners next to the river - something that is required by law.
Environmental experts agreed that it could lead to coal mines next to the Vaal River and that this would mean an ecological disaster for South Africa's most important river.
Ties with ANC
The prospecting rights were awarded to Imperial Crown Trading (ICT), which has close ties with the ANC and was recently in the news when it was awarded mineral rights for 21.4% of the Sishen iron ore mine.
These rights were worth about R9bn and made Duduzane Zuma, son of President Jacob Zuma, into a potential multi millionaire.
Advocate Phemelo Sehunelo, a founding member of the ICT, admitted on Wednesday that his company "had not yet consulted landowners".
The law required that landowners were consulted extensively before licences could be awarded.
Landowners also had to be given the opportunity to comment on an environmental management plan.
Not one of the farmers have been consulted.
Several top farms in the Viljoenskroon area in the Free State were being threatened and the local agricultural union this week met with its legal representatives to discuss how they would react to it.
It is not known precisely how many farms were included in the prospecting rights, but Jan Potgieter, chairperson of the union, said there were very few farms that were not affected.
He said some of the farmers received notices in June from ICT and another mining company that they wanted to prospect on farms.
The farmers sent the letters to their lawyers.
Lawyer Dawid Senekal said he wrote back to the companies and invited them to come and talk to the farmers.
They never heard back from them again, said Senekal.
It would now appear that ICT had already applied for the prospecting licence in May last year and that the department simply approved it shortly thereafter.
A department spokesperson said that officials were busy studying ICT's application and would comment on Thursday on the way in which the licence was awarded.
Potgieter said the farmers gave their lawyers instructions to first determine precisely what was going on and how many farmers were affected before deciding on legal action.
"This is a farming community and what will happen if there are suddenly mines here?
"Our water and soil will deteriorate. We are worried that we won't be able to produce food."
Serious consequences for the environment
Leading environmental specialist Dr Koos Pretorius said he was stunned by Sehunelo's comments.
"The law was not followed and the application should never have been approved. It is a scandal which has very serious consequences for the environment."
Pretorius, who is also director of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, said the awarding of prospecting rights meant that the government in principle had decided to allow coal mines next to the Vaal River.
He said mines could poison the river for hundreds of kilometres and threaten the drinking water of millions of people. The Vaal was the only fresh water source for more than 10 million people – a fifth of the population.