Latest Developments

Update from Nick Hiltermann

Herewith a short update on events surrounding Vele Colliery/CoAL of Africa, together with an inspired article by Yolan Friedmann, the CEO of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, which explains far better that I am able, as to why this very special area, that we have the great privilege to be part of, is worth fighting for.
• On 2nd February CoAL made the announcement that it had been awarded an ‘Unconditional New Order Mining Right’ by the Dept Mineral Resources (DMR). As I write, the site is being prepared for mining with trees being removed and plans being progressed to raise the ESCOM power lines above the intended access road.
• Through the offices of our partner in this fight, the EWT, we formally requested the DMR to confirm that it had awarded the licence. To date there has been a deafening silence.
• The DMR also failed to consult with us, after a request to do so, through the statutory mechanism which is intended to allow the DMR to hear I&AP concerns prior to it awarding a mining licence. Additionally, formal requests to the DMR for its feedback on the many substantive matters, some regarded as fatal flaws, in the mines EIA/EMP, were totally ignored.

We have responded in the following manner:
• The Mapungubwe Action Group has been formed and the inaugural meeting was at Mopani Bush Lodge. This is a statutory vehicle is modelled on what was created to allow the Wakkerstroom community to successfully fight their coal mining threat in court.
• The EWT and ourselves are working with the lawyer who successfully represented Wakkerstroom as well as The Centre For Applied Legal Studies (CALS) from the University of the Witwatersrand. We are also working closely with other institutions such as Peace Parks (PP) and the Archaeological Society.
• Yesterday, preliminary lawyers letters went to both the DMR and mining company, requesting the DMR to confirm the issue of the licence and, in the event of it having been issued, advising the broad grounds (which we are pretty confident about) as to why it is believed that this was an illegal action. The demand was made that no mining should commence until such are resolved.
CALS and the Child Law Unit of the University of Pretoria also see this as a possible test case for the Constitutional Court, as our Constitution makes provision for the protection of environment and heritage for future generations. As the Mapungubwe WHS and its cultural landscape is widely regarded as being of such great importance and lies adjacent to Vhembe, an area proclaimed last year as a UNESCO Biosphere, there can be no better case to take to the Con Court.

Owing to pressure applied on the Water and Environment ministry, Minister Sonjica has now come out and publically criticised the intended mining of Mapungubwe. Her department has also at this stage, neither issued the necessary water licence to the mine nor approved the EIA (under the separate NEMA legislation) dealing with the access road onto the site and the above-ground fuel storage facility. We hear rumours that other state departments are planning to ‘take action’ against the DMR. A most unusual situation as government depts are discouraged from publically opposing one another.
It is also encouraging that UNESCO has issued a letter threatening to review the World Heritage status of Mapungubwe if mining goes ahead.

COSTS

We are fortunate in having CALS on board as their input, I understand, comes at a very subsidised rate. Christo Reeders however, the Wakkerstroom lawyer who has much mining litigation experience, runs a private practice and will have to charge, albeit favourable rates. The Wakkerstroom case ended up costing about R1,5m.

So whilst we go about trying to find a major institutional backer (EWT is putting in expertise and lots of time), it is apparent that funding is a major issue.

The way we have set up MAG is that it can operate a bank account and that the joint signatories on such would be myself and the Financial Manager of the EWT, who would also run the books. It is hoped that this structure would give any donors reasonable confidence that there is little opportunity for surprises.

At this stage it may be appropriate to ask if any individuals are prepared to PLEDGE any funds towards this fight. This would allow us to review our costs as we go forward, balanced against any institutional funding we might receive. If there is a shortfall then the pledges, or part thereof, may be called up in a even-handed and sensible manner. I would suggest that Peter Fitt and Geoff Norris be party to those decisions.

We should be under no illusion that if the Limpopo Valley is filled with coal mines, a power station, railway line and all the related infrastructure and human density, NOTUGRE cannot escape the impact of that radical change in land use and neither will the wild-life, which does not respect international boundaries.

I will continue to send out short updates as matters progress.

With kind regards,

Nick Hiltermann

Hello EWT supporters

What is the Price for our Heritage?

For years now, South Africans have been building up excitement in anticipation of the almighty ‘2010’. That magical number that brings not only a lot of football, but for many people, the promise of jobs, wealth, infrastructural development, reduced crime and above all, a platform on which to showcase our country in all its magnificence for the entire world to see. This, we hope, will ensure that the World Cup will have long-lasting benefits for South Africa as a result of the world noticing that we are in fact a safe, secure, magnificent country that appeals to everyone, from entrepreneurs and investors to the most sought after visitor of them all: the Tourist!

So how sad that it is also be the year that sees foreign mining operators not only targeting the last vestiges of our wild, rugged coastline for its titanium, but now one of the most precious of all: the World Heritage Site and Transfrontier Conservation Area bordering the Mapungubwe National Park. An area defined by its sense of ancientness, with the biggest and oldest baobabs in the country, and archaeological digs that are only now starting to reveal the secrets of long gone civilisations, this region covers the confluence of the Shashi and Limpopo Rivers, and defies the political boundaries of the three countries at their confluence, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa, by merging them into one continuous spectacular expanse of Mopani and wilderness that spreads to the curvature of the earth. It is astounding to even consider overturning a rock in an area of such cultural, environmental and historical importance, never mind establishing a strip of open cast and underground coal mines, a coal-fired power station and the associated infrastructure that includes railways, roads and hundreds of buildings. The arguments for this ‘development’ are ludicrous and the arguments against powerful. Despite the logic however, we as humans should finally start understanding that some areas are simply not ours for the taking, and no amount of short-term wealth can justify destroying what belongs to the many and has for thousands of years before our current generation arrived. The inter-generational rights enshrined in our Constitution demand that future generations be considered in the greedy quest of current generations for financial wealth at all costs. We roll out platitudes about how we are custodians of this planet for our children and yet our actions confirm our determination to respect no boundaries, or other people, when immediate riches are at stake.

The EWT, and a host of other environmental and cultural organisations, will fight tirelessly to prevent the destruction of the Mapunbugwe and Vele region for the sake of adding more coal mines to the rapidly deteriorating face of our once beautiful country’s landscape. With most of Mpumalanga almost destroyed by the ravages of this filthy industry, one hopes that all South Africans will join this fight to learn from the mistakes of our past and ensure that 2010 is indeed a year that showcases this country, by showing the world that we are proud of our heritage and special landscapes and are willing to defend them. For their value to us all is far greater than the needs of a few greedy shareholders, and unless we start marketing coalmine tourism in June of this year, we should finally start investing in securing the goose that lays our golden eggs and still will in 100 years’ time, when coalmining will be a sad and embarrassing error of the generations gone by and who left nothing but irreversible destruction in their wake.

  • Yolan Friedmann