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Coal mining halted on heritage site

Plans to mine coal by Australia’s Coal for Africa close to the Mapungubwe Unesco World Heritage site have been put on hold.

This follows some concerns over the impact of coal mining and related activities on the environment, specifically the impact of mining on water and heritage resources in the area.

For the first time in South Africa, an offset agreement has been negotiated as a condition to obtain a mining license by the coal company. This means that any mining damage caused by Coal for Africa will be monetised and penalised.

The agreement is a win say environmentalists, who have said that should mining go ahead in the area, they have negotiated a deal that protects the area’s living and cultural heritage.

Environmentalists have also negotiated where future mining may take place, and areas that are culturally or environmentally sensitive have been protected in the deal.

South African National Parks CEO, Fundisile Mketeni, says it has been three years negotiating a mining deal with mining company Coal of Africa together with stakeholders in the coal mining area. “We went as far as going to Unesco to discuss issues of the buffer zone. That work was done meticulously by the Department of Mineral Resources together with NGO’s. Thereafter, there was an offset agreement that was discussed.

“The offset is in place. There is a committee that is looking to monitor mining activities. They will monitor issues of water quality and water use, and issues of air and ground pollution. I was told recently that the mining has stopped because of the price of coal,” said Mketeni.

Coal for Africa has said they will adhere to the off-set agreement. Its Vele colliery outside the Mapungubwe mine is currently under maintenance.

Mapungubwe Hill has been home to a royal family. It is where they were buried alongside priceless gold artefacts said Munyaradzi Manyanga, an academic at the University of Zimbabwe who has been studying Mapungubwe for twenty years.

According to Manyanga, the heritage site is believed to have been the earliest state system in South Africa where there has been clear evidence that society had become stratified.

“The civilisation was so advanced they mined gold, crafted jewellery, and traded with countries as far as China,” said Manyanga. “Mining is deeply embedded in the culture of Mapungubwe, and the deal should help influence other similar cases of contentious mining activity.”

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