Public participation and consultation in new prospecting and mining applications is a requirement in terms of South African legislation.
However, for many South Africans, understanding this process, and the public's rights within it, has proved difficult.
The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (No. 28 of 2002) regulates the management of prospecting and mining activities. According to the Act, landowners and Interested and Affected Parties are entitled to participate in and be consulted during all prospecting and mining applications.
The Endangered Wildlife Trust's (EWT) Law and Policy Programme, in partnership with leading business law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyer, has developed the 'Mining Toolkit', which will be available to the public in July 2011.
The toolkit takes the form of an interactive website that explains the mining process in simpler terms using
- Process flow charts;
- Summaries of the relevant processes and law;
- Answers to frequently asked questions;
- Document templates;
- General and targeted information;
- Practical tips;
- Case studies;
And sections on how to consider biodiversity and other environmental concerns in the process for mining and other activities.
The 'Mining Toolkit' is the second toolkit that the EWT has built to help the public to better understand and participate in the public participation process. In 2006 the EWT launched its first online interactive guide, the 'EIA Toolkit', based on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations drafted in terms of the National Environmental Management Act, 107 of 1998. This toolkit receives an average of 2 500 visitors per month and is used by local Non-government Organisations, including WESSA, which conducts EIA training with the Toolkit as a teaching aid. There has also been international interest in the concept and it may shortly be adapted and translated to suit the needs of various countries. The EIA Toolkit is available at www.eiatoolkit.ewt.org.za.
The Endangered Wildlife Trust recognises and supports the contribution that mining makes to the South African economy and supports mining in appropriate areas. However, the Trust is concerned about the increase of mining applications in sensitive environments that have more importance to the long-term wellbeing of South Africans through their provision of life-supporting ecosystem services such as fresh water provision and biodiversity conservation.
Some examples of how mining activities could potentially impact negatively on the environment
- Loss, fragmentation and degradation of indigenous vegetation and ecosystems - habitat for threatened or protected species;
- Loss of species;
- Soil, air and water pollution;
- Soil erosion;
- Blasting and vibrations may have negative effects on sensitive animal species;
- Noise and lights of the mining and associated activities may have negative impacts on wildlife, particularly at night;
- And changes to available surface water and/ or groundwater resources.
- Alien invasive organisms can be introduced to mine sites; they can transform natural habitats and oust local indigenous species;
- Downstream effects on water flow and quality;
- Effects beyond the prospecting or mining site;
- Delayed impacts on the quality of water resources from the gradual pollution and leaching of pollutants through the soils or waste;
- displacement effects on biodiversity where local communities have to move on to, or focus on, other natural areas in the vicinity to find wood, clear land to grow food, etc., thus increasing the overall impact on biodiversity;
- and Increased access to previously inaccessible areas, as well as in-migration of mine labour may lead to an influx of people, more destruction of natural habitat,
increased use and pollution of water resources and poaching.
- The combined or added impacts of mining itself, the associated infrastructure and activities, and the influx of people with their own set of impacts, are often far greater than the narrow impacts identified for individual activities;
- And where a proposed mine or prospecting area is one of a number of current or anticipated proposals in the same area, the sum of the impacts of all activities can be highly significant and will greatly increase the effects on biodiversity.
The Mining Toolkit will be an important and positive tool for improving the mining process, so avoiding unnecessary biodiversity loss and environmental degradation and destruction, and facilitating more expedient and effective public participation in the mining process.
The Endangered Wildlife Trust's Law and Policy Programme facilitates constructive legal dialogue between policy and decision-makers, civil society and other stakeholders within the South African community. It promotes the understanding, development and use of South African environmental law. By providing a forum for multi-stakeholder interaction and participation, the Programme provides an opportunity for effective communication between environmental lawyers, government officials and other NGOs to uphold the principles of co-operative governance. The EWT's Law and Policy Programme is funded by the National Lotteries Distribution Trust Fund.