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WWF is deeply concerned that the Minister of Environmental Affairs has signed off an application for coal-mining in the Mabola Protected Environment in Mpumalanga.
This news comes despite several years of effort during which WWF collaborated extensively with provincial authorities and other stakeholders towards achieving the common goal of the Department of Environmental Affairs’ (DEA) targets for national protected areas. It is therefore puzzling that within 18 months of its declaration, the protections that were afforded to Mabola are now being eroded.
The 8 772-hectare Mabola Protected Environment, which lies about 50km north-east of Wakkerstroom, was declared on 22 January 2014, along with four other wetland areas in Mpumalanga. Mabola is in a strategic water source area, generating critical water supplies for agricultural, industrial and human use.
WWF-SA has a copy of the letter indicating that Dr Molewa authorised the application for an Indian company, Atha-Africa Ventures (Pty) Ltd, to develop an underground mine in the Mabola area in August last year. She is a co-signatory with the Minister of Mineral Resources, Mosebenzi Joseph Zwane who signed off on the application in November 2016. In terms of the law, both signatures are required for mining to go ahead.
To date there has been no public announcement to this effect.
As recently as 28 January 2017, the Saturday Star published an article in which it failed to get a response from both the departments of Environmental Affairs and Mineral Resources on this particular point (“A ‘land-mine’ in the making” by Mark Olalde).
Dr Morné du Plessis, CEO of WWF South Africa, commented: “The Protected Areas Act recognises that there are areas that play such an important role in safeguarding the country’s ecological services that they require safeguarding at all costs.
“That an incompatible activity such as coal mining has been given the go-ahead is a worrying turn of events that does not bode well for other protected areas. We are increasingly aware of the trend of diminishing transparency in decisions relating to mining activities in general. This is fast becoming a significant concern of short-sighted decision-making that has the consequence of short-changing society.
“Coal mining in strategic water source areas is not only contrary to sound scientific advice, but also to basic common sense. These are areas of high biodiversity which are critical for water generation and future economic growth. WWF will leave no stone unturned to ensure that the best interests of society are pursued.”