Zuma's nephews' coal licences under fire

(File, iStock)
(File, iStock)

A company with links to relatives of President Jacob Zuma is being dragged to court after it was granted mining licences on protected land in Mpumalanga.

Atha-Africa Ventures, an Indian company, is in partnership with Bashubile Trust – which has as its trustees Sizwe Christopher Zuma, Vincent Gezinhliziyo Zuma and Thabiso Mpofu. The trust documents were sourced by amaBhungane.

The Zumas – according to a KwaZulu-Natal businessman and a former ANC national executive committee member – are President Zuma’s nephews.

Economic Freedom Fighters Mpumalanga provincial leader Collen Sedibe, a former ANC member, said that Vincent was the son of Michael Zuma, who is President Zuma’s brother.

City Press wasn’t able to get in contact with either Sizwe or Vincent Zuma.

Earthlife and a coalition of environmental organisations have approached the High Court in Pretoria to stop the proposed Yzermyn Coal Mine in Mabola near Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga, because the area is one of South Africa’s strategic water sources.

They want a judicial review to determine how this company was given the go-ahead to mine an ecologically sensitive wetland.

It is a source of major rivers. In addition, the Mpumalanga government declared it a protected area in terms of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act in 2014.

However, this year, Atha-Africa somehow managed to get an environmental licence from the Mpumalanga government and, thereafter, a mining licence from the department of mineral resources, as well as a water-use licence from the department of water affairs and sanitation.

If Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa gives her permission, the mine will go ahead and cause what environmentalists fear the most – acidic mine water spillage that will pollute streams, and kill plant and animal species for many decades.

Each of the government departments failed to respond to written questions this week.

Another source privy to the details of Atha-Africa’s application said former Mpumalanga economic development, environment and tourism MEC Pinky Phosa flatly refused to grant the company an environmental licence.

Phosa was redeployed to the National Assembly after the 2014 general elections. Thereafter, things started going smoothly for Atha-Africa.

“Many people approached Phosa, claiming they were sent by uBaba [President Jacob Zuma]. She refused to allow this until she left her position as MEC,” the source said.

Phosa stuck to her guns even after receiving a thick petition from business formations, community organisations and individuals in the poverty-stricken Pixley ka Seme local municipality, who highlighted the benefit of job opportunities and vibrancy the mine would bring to the distressed area.

Atha-Africa says the mine will create 500 direct jobs and about 2 000 indirectly.

Atha-Africa senior vice-president Praveer Tripathi said they were not aware of the Zumas’ relation to the president.

“We reject in any event any inference by anyone that any relationship with the president points to the integrity of our approach to business,” Tripathi said.

He said Atha-Africa received regulatory approvals over a period of three years. “We expect all departments involved to confirm this.”

Centre for Environmental Rights executive director Melissa Fourie said the centre instituted the judicial review proceedings against the granting of the mining rights in September last year. However, the Mpumalanga government went ahead and granted the environmental licence in June this year.

In August, the department of water and sanitation followed suit by granting Atha-Africa its water-use licence.

Former mineral resources minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi granted Atha-Africa mining rights in 2014 – just eight months after the land was declared protected.

“We’re opposing all their licences and we have good grounds to succeed,” said Fourie.

“The extraordinary facts of this case provide a clear basis for the ministers of water and sanitation and environmental affairs to use their powers under the Constitution and various acts to refuse to allow this coal mine to proceed in this environment.”

Tripathi said the company identified all sensitivities and then began mitigation measures in line with the scientific findings to satisfy the requirements of relevant government departments.

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