Victory for farmers

Gas firm pulls case after legal challenge.
Gas firm pulls case after legal challenge.

Pietermaritzburg - Two determined women are behind a huge victory by farmers against a major company, Sungu Sungu Gas (Pty) Ltd, which was seeking to explore a vast area of farmland in KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State for oil and gas.

Sungu Sungu Gas withdrew its exploration application in the face of pending legal action set down in the High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday, admitting there were flaws in the legal processes it followed.

Qualified but non-practising attorney and dairy farmer Adele Slater from Elandslaagte in KZN and Cecile Wykes, a chemical engineer and farmer from the Free State, joined forces to find ways to thwart the proposed exploration application by Sungu Sungu over a 565 000 ha area.

The women successfully mobilised affected farmers into supporting legal action against the mining giant.

“Had the farmers’ associations not worked together, put their trust in the legal system and put up the money to fund the appeal and court application this exploration process would have continued unabated,” said Slater.

“The extent of the exploration areas and number of properties, landowners and occupants affected was enormous. The prospect of effectively opposing the applications was initially overwhelming and seemingly impossible.”

She said when faced with the threat of exploration the public tends to focus on the environment and fracking. “However, these applications are first and foremost legal processes that can grant extensive rights to exploration companies and negatively impact on the rights of landowners and occupants. Exploration companies must earn the right to explore on privately owned land and to do that they must comply with the law.”

Slater said because of her legal background she believes it is more effective to oppose an exploration application on legal grounds because if you succeed the whole application falls away.

“When opposing an application on environmental grounds you have to prove that every hectare of the exploration area is a ‘no go’ zone for the application to be defeated.”

Am application by Motuane Energy (pty) Ltd) to explore a 77 490 hectare area incorporating farms in Lady­smith, Besters, Elandslaagte, Normandien and Vrede, is currently proceeding. However, Slater said that while Motuane had not withdrawn its application, the company has advised that it is not going to oppose the court application.

A major flaw in the process followed by Sungu Sungu when lodging its exploration application was the company’s alleged failure to adequately inform landowners and interested parties of the fact that an application for an exploration right had been submitted.

The papers recorded that once a prospecting right is granted by the minister of Mineral Resources, “serious inroads” are made on a landowner. The prospecting company has the right to enter a person’s land, together with any “plant, machinery or equipment and build, construct or lay down any surface, underground (or undersea) infrastructure required”.

The company may also (subject to the National Water Act) use any water sources on the land.

“It is therefore apparent that once an exploration right has been granted it will have seriously prejudicial effects on the rights of a landowner to his own land …” the court papers stated.

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