For Mboweni's growth plan to succeed the ANC has to give up certain dogmatic positions that were formulated when 7% growth was the status quo, writes Adriaan Basson.
Mostly sunny. Mild.
more important, exporting coal or having clean water? It might sound a bit
flippant, but that, in essences, is at the centre of an ongoing tug of war that
is playing itself out in Mpumalanga.
early 2014, there was widespread jubilation when the province’s MEC for
Economic Development, Environment and Tourism, Pinky Phosa formally declared
over 73 000 hectares of ecologically sensitive land in five separate
localities as protected areas.
as a major conservation milestone and the outcome of years of campaigning by
environmental organisations, this was meant to contribute to the legal
protection of valuable biodiversity while encouraging local farmers and other
landowners to institute eco-friendly land-use practices under the National
Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act.
the five newly-proclaimed protected areas is the Mabola
Protected Environment, covering 8 772 hectares of wetlands, pans and
grasslands near Wakkerstroom. It has also been classified as a Strategic Water
Source Area, a National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Area, and an Aquatic
Critical Biodiversity Area.
the stated reasons for protecting this parcel of land were “to enable the
owners of the land to take collective action to conserve biodiversity on their
land and to seek legal recognition therefore” and “to ensure that the use of
natural resources in the area is sustainable”.
the Wakkerstroom region is significant for its threatened and endemic animal
and plant species as well as being an important catchment for the Tugela,
Pongola and Vaal rivers, it is also unusually well-endowed with coal deposits.
September 2014, a mere eight months after the declaration of the Mabola Protected
Environment, the national Minister of Mineral Resources, Ngoako Ramatlhodi
granted a well-connected Indian mining company called Atha Africa
Ventures rights to mine inside the proclaimed area.
the company has plans to drain wetlands and establish an underground mine to
extract export-quality coal from two seams. The amount of coal present is
estimated at somewhere between 100 and 200 million tonnes – enough for 30 to 40
years of mining at a rate of 2.26 million tonnes a year.
of major concern is that these activities are acknowledged to go hand in hand
with a very significant risk of polluting the streams in the area, a process
that is unlikely to be reversible or amenable to mitigation.
not lost, however. Mining can only start once permission has been given by both
the Minister of Mineral Resources and the Minister of Environmental Affairs,
and that has not happened yet.
this month, a coalition of civil society and community organisations
represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights instituted
action against Ramatlhodi, asking the Pretoria High Court to set
aside his decision to grant mining rights to Atha Africa.
remains to be seen how this particular case plays out in the end, it’s clear
that it represents part
of a worrying trend of granting mining rights in or near
environmentally sensitive or protected areas.
official discourse may be steeped in the language of ‘sustainable development’,
but it would appear that more often than not government favours the mining of
lucrative mineral resources and the profits of private corporations over the protection
of the natural environment and the interests of local communities. Climate-changing
coal over clean water and biodiversity.
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