Illegal coal mining boom in Mpumalanga

Illegal coal mining in Mpumalanga’s Emalahleni town and surrounding townships is getting out of control as more companies lie and disregard environmental regulations in their scramble for coal.

Most companies, according to information City Press obtained, approached the Emalahleni Local Municipality under the pretext of volunteering to remove waste dumps and rehabilitating land, but ended up digging for coal.

Emalahleni has been the source of the country’s coal, which is sold to Eskom’s power stations, for many decades. Environmentalists have warned that the effects of unbridled coal mining in the highveld region, where Emalahleni is situated, will be felt for many years after mining has ceased as arable agricultural land will be sterile and water sources contaminated.

Insiders in the local municipality, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said some of the companies’ false applications were often not tabled before council for approval.

The companies struck deals with unscrupulous officials, two sources said, and began mining without obtaining the necessary permits from the department of mineral resources (DMR) or authorisations from the environmental affairs department.

On the other hand, community activists have alleged that ANC bigwigs in the Nkangala region were beneficiaries of the illegal coal mining activities.

There are at least six companies mining illegally near the town and Vosman township, but the municipality has only managed to take one company to the Johannesburg High Court in a bid to interdict its operations.

Municipal spokesperson, Kingdom Mabuza, confirmed that the municipality was trying to get an interdict against Ex-Plo Mining Projects and that there were more companies mining illegally in its area of jurisdiction.

Ex-Plo is mining on land between Ackerville and Emalahleni central business district.

“The application for an interdict for Ex-Plo Mining was made before court, but the court, on perusal of the allegations raised in the application, came to the conclusion that the matter is not urgent and parties need to follow a route of ordinary processes in terms of the rules of the high court. As things stand, the matter is still sub judice,” Mabuza said.

He declined to give more explanation about the case. However, Mabuza said the municipality had developed and established a directorate of waste and environment to monitor all illegal mining activities.

According to council minutes from a sitting last week, Ex-Plo Mining brought an application to the municipality on June 10 2014 to remove a waste dump from the property known as Witbank 307 JS /Portion 123.

“Upon receipt of the application letter, [the then municipal manager Theo van Vuuren] approved permission for the company for voluntary removal and rehabilitation of the coal waste dump at the property,” read the minutes.

“It is common cause that an item was not tabled to council as it was required … for an application of this nature an environmental impact assessment was supposed to have accompanied the item before an approval.”

The minutes indicate that Ex-Plo proceeded mining illegally and in December last year, the communities of Ackerville, Lynville and Schoongezicht complained to the municipality about intermittent interruption of water supply.

When the supply resumed, their water was contaminated with coal ashes and not suitable for human consumption.

DMR spokesperson Ayanda Shezi did not respond to written questions.

Community activist George Lukhele accused the DMR of failing to act against these companies.

“The DMR is sleeping on duty. When we engaged them they said they are not aware of illegal mining yet there are many companies doing so,” Lukhele said.

“We have many unanswered questions. Where do they get the water to wash the coal because we are short of water?

“When they blast, they blow a whistle and residents have to leave their houses. How is that happening in 2018? The rumours that politicians get bribes from these companies could be true because nothing much is happening to stop this,” he said.

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