The coalition of civil society organisations challenging the authorisations given to mining company Limpopo Coal (Pty) Ltd's proposed Vele colliery outside the Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site has agreed to suspend legal proceedings against the mining company pending the outcome of negotiations with it.
The aim of these negotiations, as agreed by both the Coalition and CoAL, is to set a benchmark for best practice in relation to managing and mitigating the impacts of coal mining and related activities on the environment, specifically including the impact on water and heritage resources – not only for the Vele colliery, but for all future coal mines.
The negotiations will address outstanding concerns about the impact of the Vele colliery on the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape's environment, water and heritage resources through, inter alia:
- a.further research, monitoring and modelling into the potential impacts of mining at the Vele Colliery; and
- b.amendments and improvements to Limpopo Coal's approved EMPR and water use licence to be agreed.
Should the Coalition be able to come to a satisfactory agreement with Limpopo Coal and CoAL on these and related issues, it is the Coalition's intention to withdraw all existing legal proceedings and legal challenges in this matter. During the period of negotiations, which should conclude by 31 January 2012, the Coalition will temporarily suspend legal proceedings.
A formal Memorandum of Understanding between the Coalition members, Limpopo Coal and CoAL has been agreed to all parties. A copy of the MoU will be made publicly available to ensure transparency and accountability to the public and all of our stakeholders.
During and after the negotiations the Coalition remains committed to:
- a.ensuring accountability for, and compliance with all applicable licence conditions and the regulatory framework;
- b.insisting on transparency and access to information from authorities about how this mine complies with all its obligations;
- c.investigating and, where necessary, challenging new threats to the larger Mapungubwe area, including the proposed shrinkage of the buffer zone around the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site;
- d.continuing with our advocacy around legislative reform and the declaration of areas of critical hydrological, biodiversity and heritage value that should be protected from prospecting and mining; and
- e.taking appropriate legal action against any individual or company that flouts heritage and environmental laws in a way that threatens the environment and our cultural and natural heritage, particularly those in or near our World Heritage Sites.
Results achieved to date
The Coalition's challenge to the proposed Vele colliery has had far-reaching positive consequences that go well beyond this one mining development:
- a.A clear message has been sent to the mining industry that Interested and Affected Parties have legal remedies and will not hesitate to use them again in future.
- b.The Coalition's challenge demonstrates the need for a single permitting system where all the mandated authorities consider applications for new mines jointly, and where each authority has a veto to ensure that mining permits are only granted to a company and for an area where all the requirements of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, 2002 (MPRDA), the National Environmental Management Act, 1998 (NEMA), the South African National Heritage Resources Act, 1999 and the National Water Act, 1998 can be satisfied.
- c.The Coalition's challenge has highlighted the urgent need for authorities to agree on and demarcate areas of heritage, ecological, biodiversity, cultural and hydrological importance and value where mining should be restricted particularly to avoid a situation where mining companies are allowed to invest significant capital in an area where mining should never have been allowed in the first instance. A proposed list of such areas of critical biodiversity and hydrological value and sensitivity, based on extensive scientific research and consultation with a wide range of affected parties and authorities, was submitted to the Minister of Mineral Resources in February 2011 by a group of 13 NGOs.
- d.The Coalition's challenge has generated significant awareness, locally and internationally, about the natural and cultural heritage contained in the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape, and highlighted the urgent need for adequate protection of our World Heritage Sites, including provision for adequate buffer zones for all World Heritage Sites.
- e.Partly as a result of the Coalition's challenge, the proposed Vele colliery will operate under far greater obligations to mitigate, offset and responsibly manage its heritage and environmental impacts than would have been the case without the Coalition's challenge.