Wildlife group criticised for accepting donation from mining firm

2013-09-03 00:00

ENVIRONMENTALISTS from Mtunzini on the North Coast feel they have been stabbed in the back after one of their earlier allies, the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (Wessa), accepted funds from Tronox/Exxaro, the mining group that wants to mine titanium from the coastal town’s sand dunes.

Wessa, which had until recently been one of Tronox/Exxaro’s main critics, recently accepted a R56 000 donation from the mining group.

Mtunzini resident Barbara Chedzey yesterday said she and her husband, Jim, both members of Wessa, were shocked when they heard the non-governmental organisation had accepted Tronox’s donation.

“It feels as if we had been stabbed in the back,” she said.

Chedzey is the chairperson of Mtunzini Conservation.

Garth Barnes, national conservation director of Wessa, said the NGO had supported the Mtunzini Conservation in their objections against a Tronox/Exxaro environmental impact assessment of titanium mining on the sand dunes at Mtunzini.

Wessa was one of the groups that had appealed the MEC’s decision to approve the miner’s plans. The appeal was turned down.

“Our work in this regard is done,” Barnes said, adding that Wessa needed money to host an environmental course for local communities at Umhlanga. Tronox/Exxaro offered a donation.

Wessa is the oldest environment organisation in South Africa. Several members have insisted that the NGO return the money to the mining group.

Barnes said the matter was sensitive and that Wessa had not yet met to discuss it. Several Wessa members had indicated that they would resign from the organisation.

Some of them are of the opinion that Tronox/Exxaro had attempted to bribe Wessa to be less critical of its plans. Barnes denied this.

Natalie Keegan, spokesperson for Tronox KZN Sands, said the donation was part of the mining group’s policy of contributing to the social upliftment of communities as well as environmental conservation. She rejected accusations that Tronox/Exxaro had tried to bribe Wessa with a donation.

Keegan said it was not only Tronox KZN Sands that made donations. Tronox’s main shareholder, Exxaro, is an active member of the Trust for Endangered Species.

Chedzey said she has ended her Wessa membership. She said the battle against Tronox/Exxaro’s plans will continue in Mtunzini’s backyard.

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