ICT to mine for coal on the Vaal

2010-10-31 12:29

Controversial mining company Imperial Crown Trading (ICT) has been granted a licence to prospect for coal on the banks of the Vaal River in the northwestern Free State.

But environmentalists fear the move will lead to coal mines polluting South Africa’s most important waterway.

ICT has close links to the ANC and recently obtained mineral rights for 21.4% of the Sishen mine in the Northern Cape.

The mine, worth about R9 billion, is set to turn President Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane, a shareholder, into a multimillionaire.

ICT, which is eyeing potentially rich coal reserves on the banks of the Vaal, has been granted prospecting rights for 162 spots on six prize maize and cattle farms.

The Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act requires that all interested and affected parties – including landowners – must be consulted before the mineral ­resources department can grant ­mineral rights.

It has now emerged that the six farmers and their farmworkers were never consulted.

The founder of ICT, Phemelo Sehunelo, said this week that “landowners haven’t been consulted yet”.

Spokesperson for the mineral resources department Zingaphi Jakuja denied thvais week that the process of issuing licences is flawed but ­admitted that it’s open to abuse.

But she was adamant that prescribed legal process was followed.

She showed City Press a notification ICT sent in June last year to the farmers, telling them of its intent to prospect for coal on their land and inviting comments and objections.

She said it was possible the farmers didn’t respond to the letters.

But five of the six farmers said they instructed their lawyer to ­engage with ICT.

The farmers’ lawyer Dawid Senekal said he had invited ICT to talk with the farmers but had never heard from the company again.

Mining expert and director of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment Koos Pretorius found it “astonishing” that the department had granted a licence before the requirements of the act had been met.

Pretorius said “this is not the first time that they’ve granted a licence in this manner”.

Jakuja said the department doesn’t have the capacity to investigate every application.

She said in most cases it has to accept the ­credentials and assurances of ­companies that they consulted or tried to consult landowners, and ­affected and interested parties.

The act also requires applicants to furnish the department with an environmental management plan.

Jakuja refused to show ICT’s plan but said that her department had ­advanced it to other departments, ­including to the department of water affairs.

A Water Affairs spokesperson this week said: “Water Affairs is not aware of the granting of these licences. In addition, the department has not been able to find any correspondence or communication.”

Jakuja said although the prospecting licence was granted to ICT, it has not been issued yet and any affected or interested party, including the farmers, could appeal the decision.

The affected farmers, whose farms are in the Viljoenskroon area, have instructed their lawyer to find out what the position is and have not excluded legal action against the ­department of mineral resources.

The chairperson of the local ­agricultural union, Jan Potgieter, said: “Coal mines will result in the deterioration of our soil and water. We’re worried that we might not be able to produce food any longer.”

Environmentalists have slammed the department’s decision.

Pretorius said “this can lead to an ecological disaster” and acidic mine water could seep into the river.

The Vaal River eventually joins the Orange River, and Pretorius said he was concerned the rivers might be polluted from Viljoenskroon to Alexander Bay, where the Orange River flows into the Atlantic.

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