Limpopo dismisses activists' appeal against one of the biggest special economic zones in SA

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Musina Makhado SEZ
  • The Limpopo government has dismissed environmental activists' appeal against the construction of the Musina Makhado Special Economic Zone (SEZ).
  • The SEZ started its application in 2018 but couldn't progress because of environmental impact assessment concerns.
  • The dismissal of environmental groups' appeal means that the environmental authorisation granted to the SEZ in February still stands.
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The Limpopo government has dismissed environmental activists' appeal against the environmental authorisation to build one of the biggest ever heavy industrial parks in Limpopo.

Several stumbling blocks have hit the development of Musina Makhado Special Economic Zone (SEZ) since former Trade and Industry Minister, Rob Davis, first announced it in 2017. The project's application started in 2018, followed by a scoping report in 2019. But it still hasn't broken ground yet due to environmental harm concerns.

In March 2021, the Limpopo Economic Development and Tourism Department temporarily halted the project, saying its environmental impact assessment was "deemed insufficient". It sent the project developers back to get the views of landowners, traditional authorities and other affected groups after they've been consulted in their indigenous languages.

It also wanted the developers to explicitly outline water and energy supply issues in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report after Environmental Assessment Practitioner, Deltabec did not recommend a decision on the project.

The department later approved the environmental authorisation of the Musina Makhado SEZ this February after the project developers submitted another EIA report in November 2021. But environmental activists, including Earthlife Africa, groundWork and the Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of South Africa, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights, appealed that decision.

They said that the final EIA still failed to resolve concerns raised by civil society in the past, alleging serious flaws in the EIA process and conflict of interest among some decision-makers. They also called on Environment Minister Barbara Creecy and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment to intervene to protect residents' rights.

READ | Limpopo's R247bn special economic zone will worsen SA’s climate liabilities

But the department has now dismissed their appeal. It said that a full and proper heritage impact assessment was done, which identified 19 graves within the project location and 30 sites of heritage significance. But the developers have put mitigation measures in place. It said the information at its disposal was sufficient to convince the department to dismiss the appeal.

"All anticipated cumulative impacts were considered before the decision was made, including compliance with the environmental prescripts," wrote Limpopo's Economic Development, Environment, and Tourism MEC, Thabo Mokone.

The Musina Makhado SEZ CEO Lehlogonolo Masoga said the dismissal vindicated the organisation from "baseless and speculative accusations".

"For far too long, the [Musina Makhado] SEZ bent backwards to afford the interested and affected parties the democratic space to register their legitimate concerns on our EIA application, a process which unfortunately degenerated into abuses," he wrote in a statement.

Occupying 7 262 hectares, this special economic zone (SEZ) would be one of the biggest in SA, bigger than the Dube Tradeport SEZ, the Richards Bay Industrial Development Zone (IDZ), or the Saldanha Bay IDZ. The Coega SEZ in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro is the biggest at 9 003 hectares.

According to the plans, the Musina Makhado SEZ will house heavy industries (like ferrochrome, ferromanganese, steel and cement plants. It will also have a 3300 MW coal-fired power station.

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