Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa’s opinion piece published on March 11 is understandably defensive. She is the first minister of environmental affairs to have given approval for a coal mine inside a declared protected area. Her decision has been widely criticised by civil society organisations and in the media, and she will soon have to answer for her decision in court. The mine proposed by Atha Africa Ventures is a 15-year underground coal mine. Atha’s own environmental consultants found the risks posed by this mine in this area to be so serious as to recommend that the area be regarded as a no-go area for mining. The Mabola Protected Environment, declared under the Protected Areas Act in 2014 by the Mpumalanga MEC for environment, is a source of three major rivers — the Tugela, the Vaal and the Pongola — that provide precious freshwater to many thousands of downstream water users. The area has been classified as one of 21 strategic water source areas by the South African...

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