Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa has set aside the decision by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) to grant authorisation to Groothoek Coal Mining for the proposed construction of a coal mine in Lephalale, Limpopo.

Minister Molewa set the decision to grant the environmental authorisation aside and referred it back to the DMR for reconsideration.

In her reasons for the decision on appeal, the Minister stated that the DMR conceded that the decision to grant the mining right to Groothoek Coal Mining was “premature”, and that the environmental authorisation issued to Groothoek was defective.

“We welcome the DMR’s willingness to admit that a mistake had been made,” says Elana Greyling, a local activist in Lephalale. “We also appreciate the Minister of Environmental Affairs’ commitment to rational decision-making that complies with environmental laws, and the principles of administrative justice.”

According to environmental justice group Earthlife Africa Johannesburg who launched the appeal against the decision by the DMR, the proposed mine angered local residents as it was planned to be built inside the residential boundaries of Lephalale, a few hundred metres from a block of flats, and from the provincial hospital in Lephalale.

“The township of Marapong, located near the proposed mining site, is primarily made up of low-cost housing known to have weak foundations. The risk that blasting at the proposed mine would cause the houses in these residential areas to collapse or suffer severe structural damage was of major concern to us and to the Centre for Environmental Rights, another group who was opposing the mine. Most of the Onverwacht suburb of Lephalale  for example would have fallen inside the blast zone of the opencast coal mine,” said Earthlife Africa.

It is also well-known that the Waterberg is a water scarce region, and residents also raised concerns regarding the constraints in water availability. Earthlife Africa and local residents argued that the proposed mine would further add to the residents’ water troubles.

Three other separate appeals were submitted against the same DMR environmental authorisation, by Eskom’s Matimba Power Station, by the Lephalale Local Municipality and by Camelot Reserve.