Mapungubwe mine still under fire

2011-11-12 17:11

Despite an Australian colliery near Mapungubwe receiving the ­green light to mine, it still has a possible criminal case hanging over its head.

Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe said in response to a parliamentary question that a police docket ­regarding the breaking of ­environmental laws at the Vele Colliery by Australian-listed Coal of Africa had been forwarded to the national director of public ­prosecutions, Menzi Simelane.

The controversial colliery, seven kilometres from the Mapungubwe world heritage site, had been constantly challenged by environmentalists who fear the mine will not only endanger the Mapungubwe National Park, but also one of South Africa’s premier heritage sites where the golden rhino was discovered. Last year in June, the Green ­Scorpions – officials from the environment department’s ­environmental management ­inspectorate – raided Vele’s premises for environmental ­transgressions.

This resulted in a police docket being opened against the mine. The Green Scorpions also ordered the mine to stop all mining ­activities in August last year after the raids.

But Water and Environmental Affairs Minister ­Edna Molewa last month lifted the suspension on the mine’s ­water-use ­licence, clearing the way for it to start mining in ­January.

The mine was given permission to start its activities again ­after paying a R9.2 million fine to the environment department as a result of the raids, the Green Scorpions revealed last week at the launch of their yearly report.

The only obstacle remaining for the Vele mine now is to sort out the Mapungubwe Action Group’s ­appeal against the awarding of the water licence. But the group, which consists of civil society groups – including the Endangered Wildlife Trust, Peace Parks Foundation and BirdLife SA – are also working on a lawsuit against the mine.

Two weeks ago Radebe confirmed in Parliament the mine might still be prosecuted for ­environmental crimes.

“A final decision is dependent on a fully investigated police docket,” the minister said in response to a question by DA MP Sandy Kaylan.

He said Simelane’s decision to prosecute the mine would ­depend on the outcome of a declaratory order Simelane’s ­office ­intends to obtain from the high court. The ­order would clarify the National Prosecuting Authority’s legal position after the mine had already paid the hefty administrative fine.

But Sonnyboy Bapela, chief ­director of regulatory services at the department, said the go-ahead to mine, the million-rand fine and the possible prosecution hanging over the mine were three separate matters that would not necessarily impact on each other.

Coal of Africa CEO John ­Wallington repeatedly stated last year that the mine is now more aware of the environmental sensitivities and would go to extra lengths to ensure that it met its ­environmental obligations.

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