ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES - Mining threat to Mpumalanga's Trout Triangle

Environmental issue/project: Mining threat to Mpumalanga's Trout Triangle
Date: 2011-06-29

Name of person reporting: Peter Arderne
Email address: mwardern@mweb.co.za
Phone: 011-8823051

Description of issue:
There is a growing threat to what is considered the most important flyfishing area in the country and also an area of unique biodiversity. A Task Team was therefore formed in May 2011 comprising Mpumalanga Tourism & Parks Agency (MTPA), leading environmental NGO’s and FOSAF. The main objective was to assist the MTPA submit a motivation for a Section 49 determination in terms of the MPRDA (new Mining Act of 2002) which allows the Minister to prohibit or restrict mining in an area considered to be of exceptionally high biodiversity value. This submission is to be made before 01/09/2011. The project is to be known as the Steenkampsberg Environmental Initiative.

Review of Issue
The Task Team for the Steenkampsberg Environmental Initiative held its second meeting on Middelpunt farm near Dullstroom on July 19. The good news was that the submission of a Section 49 application to the Mining Department (DMR) had been finalized and would be presented at the next inter-departmental meeting. However, the meeting was reminded that this was only the first step in a very lengthy process. Should the application be accepted it still had to proceed through a public participation procedure and it could be at least 3 years before it was gazetted. In the meantime the Task Team and other Interested & Affected parties needed to oppose existing applications in Steenkampsberg (Dullstroom plateau) such as William Bower’s application for an open cast coal mine and the illegal prospecting by diamond miners at the top end of the Lakenvlei as well as the large number of applications expected after September 1.

Review of Issue
The submission to the DMR (Mining Dept) was made on 19/08/2011 requesting that 200 000 hectares of the Steenkampsberg, principally the Dullstroom plateau, be set aside in terms of Section 49 of the MPRDA. If successful, the Minister would either forbid or restrict further mining in this area for a certain number of years. An excellent presentation was made by Mervyn Lotter of the MTPA (Mpumalanga Parks Board) supported by Frans Krige (MTPA), Ursula Franke (EWT) and Peter Arderne (FOSAF). It was mentioned that the processing of the application could take 3 years but at least miners would know they faced stiff opposition in the interim.

Review of Issue
The RMDEC meeting at DMR Witbank took place this week on Tuesday 7th Feb after this meeting arranged for late last year had been cancelled twice by the DMR, both times at very late notice . Amongst other items the WPB Coal Mine application was on the agenda. It was attended by a number of people opposing the application including among others the MTPA, Dr Koos Pretorius, and EWT. The chairman, a DMR official, gave the delegation opposing the application a “tongue lashing” stating he had no concern for “frogs and things” and was only focused on developing the economy because the country needs coal. The applicants (WPB) joined the fray with gusto calling the delegation “just weekend farmer greenies who are anti-mining activists” and contending there are only about 10 hospitality workers around the locality. The delegation responded with great vigour to these outrageous remarks and scored some good points, but they were still very disappointed by the very prejudiced remarks of the DMR appointed chairperson. This RMDEC meeting will be discussed at the next meeting of the SEI coalition on 15/02/2012.

Review of Issue
As it appears that the Section 49 application submitted to the DMR in 2011 has not been forwarded to the Minister the Steenkampsberg Environmental Initiative Group (SEI group) has decided to apply for ‘Protected Area’ status for about 17 000 ha of the most vulnerable and threatened area on which the Section 49 application was based. This much smaller area is centred on the very sensitive Lakenvlei wetland which is already threatened by at least two prospecting/mining applications. Work has already started on this project by signing up landowners for the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme, but the SEI Group estimate that may still take at least another 2 years before this Lakenvlei area can be gazetted. In the meantime there have been a further two applications for prospecting licences outside the Lakenvlei area but between Belfast and Dullstroom and within the SEI target area. These are being vigourously opposed at an early stage as they appeared to be fatally flawed.

Review of Issue
On 22 May 2014 the intention to declare the Greater Lakenvlei area a Protected Environment in terms of the National Management: Protected Areas Act was published in the Provincial Gazette No 2303.

This 14 000 tract of mainly grassland and wetland lies in the southerly portion of the Dullstroom plateau or Steenkampsberg. The Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment (GLPE) harbours all three of South Africa’s threatened cranes as well as the critically endangered white-winged flufftails plus a large number of wetland and alpine grassland plants. Protection of the vast Lakenvlei and surrounding wetlands is also critically important as it is a source of large volumes of high quality water. 3 miners have objected to the intended declaration whereas the project has received over 300 letters of support within the 60 day period of public participation.

The provincial government of Mpumalanga will now have to review the matter and give its ruling. Should the declaration succeed this Protected Environment will serve as a model and give encouragement to landowners and conservation agencies to create further PE’s on the Dullstroom plateau.

Review of Issue
The Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment has still to be declared despite 'the intention to declare" having been gazetted in 2014. This delay has been caused by objections by miners, lack of will by top officials and more recently the appointment of a new MEC. In the meantime a landowners committee has been formed who are pursing the matter. With regard to new prospecting/mining applications there some 14 applications beginning 2015. None of these have been processed and within the last 4 weeks 4 more applications have come through of which 2 have already been withdrawn. Also note that the mining permit issued to WPB Colliery will probably not be acted upon due to delays caused by our appeal.

Review of Issue
The Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment of 14 000 ha was finally declared in April 2017. Despite this major achievement the Steenkampsberg Envoronmental Initiative still faces a number of important challenges. Although the SEI area is virtually clear of mining and most of the applications of the last 12 months have been withdrawn there remain several outstanding issues. The most important is the WPB Colliery south of Dullstroom which has been put on hold but where the miner is gearing up for a protracted fight. Other issues are the Ibhubesi diamond mine where the renewed licence expired in Oct 2016 and we are insisting on a complete rehab. 2 new applications were made public this year, one at Moeilkyheid in the GLPE itself and a second at Elandspruit north of Dullstroom. Both applications are totally flawed.

Current Issues:

  1. Court Case regarding proposed amendments to the Alien & Invasive Lists & Regulations
  2. Massive pollution of the Vaal River Barrage and downstream
  3. WPB Colliery
  4. Proposed deproclamation of part of the Mabola Protected Environment
  5. Trout translocation project in the Western Cape by FOSAF and the CPS.
  6. Clanwilliam sandfish in trouble
  7. Fish lose sense of smell in polluted waters
  8. EUS: A threat to Africa’s aquatic ecosystems
  9. Illegal netting
  10. New fish disease (EUS) widespread in Southern Africa