Neels Blom Columnist
Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Renewed conflict is brewing between coal-mining interests and environmental groups working in the Enkangala Drakensberg, a strategic water source area near Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga.

Eight civil rights groups are squaring up to Indian mining company Atha Africa Ventures, which is planning to establish a R400m underground coal mine in the Mabola Protected Environment after receiving all the necessary permissions.

“There is no reason for the project not to go ahead. We await the rezoning approval without which we cannot legally mine. The outcome of the approval is not in our hands so we cannot give a date. If it is approved we will commence construction of the mine within a short period,” the company’s MD, Praveer Tripathi, said on Wednesday.

But attorney Catherine Horsfield at the Centre for Environmental Rights disagreed. "It won’t happen if we have anything to do about it."

The centre represents eight civil rights organisations, which all say that the proposed mine at Yzermyn in the Mabola district will be inside a declared protected area and a strategic water source area.

"It will threaten water security not only in the local area but in the region," says the Centre for Environmental Rights.

The environmental journalists’ group Oxpeckers reports that interested parties have until May 30 to comment and raise objections to an application by Atha Africa for the local government to change the land-use designation of the proposed mining area from that of agriculture and conservation to mining and ancillary purposes.

Atha Africa expects to produce about 2.25-million tonnes of coal a year, 99% of which will be exported.

The coal, graded as RB3, is of relatively poor quality, yielding 5,500 kilocalories a kilogram (KCAL/kg). Top-quality coal yields at least 6,000KCAL/kg.

The company says the mine will create about 570 direct jobs and have a life of 15 years, contributing R10bn to the economy on an investment of about R400m.

The Centre for Environmental Rights says, however, that the benefit of the mine, if any, would be limited to the immediate community and that the threat is to the wider community.

"The damage that this mine would do to water resources cannot be undone. All these organisations are deeply committed to job creation and improving the quality of life of local people, but we also know that coal mining has devastated the lives, health and well-being of communities across the [Mpumalanga] Highveld."

The proposed mine had raised several environmental issues including damage caused by heavy road vehicles, although the threat posed by acid mine drainage and associated water pollution was the most critical, said Horsfield.

blomn@businesslive.co.za

Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously referred to the number of jobs to be created as 300 instead of 570. The CEO's name Praveer Tripathi was also misspelt as Traveer Tripathi. In addition the article cut short a quotation from Tripathi. The earlier version of the article quoted him as saying: There is no reason for the project not to go ahead".  The full quote is: "There is no reason for the project not to go ahead. We await the rezoning approval without which we cannot legally mine. The outcome of the approval is not in our hands so we cannot give a date. If it is approved we will commence construction of the mine within a short period".

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