The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria has given Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane 30 days to consider the appeals lodged by two environmental groups against the granting of coal mining rights in an environmentally sensitive area in the Belfast district in Mpumalanga.
Judge Vivian Tlhapi ordered the minister to consider the internal appeals lodged by the Escarpment Environment Protection Group (Eepog) and Birdlife South Africa against the mining rights granted to William Patrick Bower (WPB) in 2012 to mine for coal in an area between Dullstroom and Belfast.
If the minister failed to consider the appeals, it would be deemed a dismissal and the environmental groups would be entitled to approach the court for an order to set aside the granting of the mining rights.
The groups lodged internal appeals with the minister in 2012 and 2013 after finding out that the mining rights had been granted to WPB, but turned to the court for relief when no decision was forthcoming.
The organisations contend the granting of the mining rights was unlawful and should have been refused because it would result in unacceptable pollution, ecological degradation and/or damage to the environment.
Eepog chairperson Jacobus Pretorius said in court papers the properties earmarked for coal mining were located on a watershed with runoff from the site draining into the Lakenvlei wetland system and Elandsfonteinspruit catchment area.
The area contained habitat classified in the Mpumalanga Terrestrial Biodiversity Assessment as “truly exceptional and irreplaceable” and the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency was opposed to the granting of new mining rights in the Steenkampsberg Wet Grasslands.
The properties also fell within the boundaries of the Steenkampsberg important bird area, a national freshwater ecosystem priority area.
Pretorius said properties lay within 100m of a wetland that fed clean water into two major rivers. In addition, the Belfast-Dullstroom area was a high water-yield area that contributed significantly to the overall water supply of the country.
He said the proposed mining posed a significant negative risk to the water quality and seasonal flow patterns or volumes of water in the wetland system, which in turn posed a risk to the endangered bird species – including the critically endangered wattled crane and white-winged flufftail – which are dependent on the
He stressed that WPB’s own environmental report made it clear that the mine would have a serious negative effect on water resources in the area.