Mining is not a law unto itself

2012-04-14 16:08

The constitutional court’s ruling this week on mining rights has been hailed as a victory for South Africa’s environment.

Environmental groups, including WWF and the Centre of Environmental Rights, labelled the so-called Maccsand case a watershed moment in determining whether mining companies should be given special treatment by the government.

The court was asked to resolve a jurisdiction row between local and national government and rule whether a mining right granted by the Minister of Mineral Resources trumped the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) and municipal Land Use Planning Ordinance regulations.

On Thursday, the highest court in the land dismissed mining minister Susan Shabangu’s application with costs, after the City of Cape Town originally sued Maccsands for not obtaining the necessary rezoning permission three years ago.

The court upheld the Supreme Court of Appeals judgment last year that in addition to obtaining a mining right or mining permit in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA), authorisation must also be obtained in terms of municipal and environmental legislation.

The MPRDA, for which the minerals department is the custodian, includes an environmental assessment, but the court said an environmental study also needed to be done under the NEMA.

Shabangu and Environment Minister Edna Molewa faced off in the unique court action after Shabangu appealed the SCA’s decision.

Melissa Fourie, executive director of the Centre for Environmental Rights, said this week’s judgment marks the beginning of the end of decades of special treatment for the mining industry.

“The consequences of decisions made on mining operations without proper regard for other authorities and other legislation are severe, aggravate the detrimental impact mining operations have on the environment, and do nothing to benefit the country, the mining industry, mine workers or communities,” she said. “It can no longer be justified.”

“Crucially, the judgment confirms that mining operations and mining companies must comply with all laws, and that the MPRDA does not trump other legislation,” said Fourie.

“For too long, the mining sector has operated on the assumption that mining approvals outweighed any other legal requirements.”

Dr Deon Nel, head of WWF’s Biodiversity Unit said: “To suggest that mining could be exempt from such legislated processes is tantamount to playing an economic game of chance, with potentially damaging effects for people and the environment.

“Decisions about granting mining rights, as with decisions about any other economic activity, must be subject to proper processes across all levels of government. Mining cannot be treated as a law unto itself, to which the rest of the laws of the land do not apply.”

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