New legal proceedings have been launched in the Mbombela High Court against Atha-Africa Ventures’ proposed development of the Yzermyn coal mine inside a protected area and strategic water resource area, in Mpumalanga.
A coalition of eight community and civil society organisations have lodged a judicial review application to set aside the decision of the Mpumalanga Department of Environmental Affairs to grant an environmental authorisation to Atha-Africa for the proposed mine, as well as the decision of the Mpumalanga Environmental Affairs MEC to dismiss the coalition’s appeal of that environmental authorisation.
The review application is coupled with an interdict preventing the start of any activities at the proposed mining site pending the outcome of the review.
The coalition of eight community and civil society organisations is represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) and includes the Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of South Africa, groundWork, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, BirdLife South Africa, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, the Association for Water and Rural Development and the Bench Marks Foundation.
The coalition says the environmental authorisation for the project had been granted despite longstanding recognition of the strategic environmental importance of the area, specifically as a water source.
“Additionally [it was approved despite] the fact that mining will dry up the numerous wetlands and headwater and mountain streams in the area, that mining will result in contamination of ground and surface water, including acid mine drainage, while being in contradiction to key planning instruments for the area and being in contradiction to South Africa’s international responsibilities relating to environmental protection,” the CER’s statement read.
The coalition further stated that Atha-Africa had failed to provide financial security for the future treatment of polluted water, and to consider the greenhouse-gas emissions of the proposed mine and its climate change impacts.
Atha-Africa plans to export up to 67.4% of saleable coal product from the proposed mine, with the remaining 32.6% expected to be supplied to State-owned Eskom’s power stations.
This, the CER said, suggests that the project is not aimed at ensuring local energy security.
Agricultural and tourism-related jobs and livelihoods will also be lost if the mine goes ahead, the CER lamented.
Therefore, the CER added that there is little in the proposed mine that will benefit the local population.
On the contrary, local communities would be negatively impacted by the proposed mine, including restricting water access, it argued.
Further downstream of the proposed mine, CER highlighted that river water is used by farmers for significant numbers of livestock and for crops, and also by hundreds of farmworkers for domestic use. Moreover, part of the proposed mine is a strategic water source area that if disrupted, water supply will have a national economic impact.
The coalition believes it has good prospects of success, and that the approvals will be set aside by the courts in due course.
If necessary, the coalition has stated that it will take the matter to the Constitutional Court.