Wetland threatened by prospecting rights

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 06 Sep 2011

Minerals prospecting upstream of the Western Cape’s Verlorenvlei wetland would go ahead, Department of Mineral Resources spokesman Bheki Khumalo said yesterday.

60% of Verlorenvlei’s water is from the Krom Antonies River, the catchment area which is in the middle of the prospecting area

There is controversy about the department’s allowing prospecting for tungsten, rare earths and molybdenum by Bongani Minerals, which has a link to Imperial Crown Trading (ICT), the company engaged in a political tussle over the mineral rights to Kumba Iron Ore’s Sishen mine.

The rights award has raised the wrath of environmentalists and farmers who claim any mining that resulted from successful prospecting would endanger agriculture and the wetland, a “Ramsar” site. This refers to sites worldwide recognised under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and endangered ecosystems, to which SA is a signatory.

“A review is not on the cards. We have followed the law to the letter,” said Mr Khumalo, who is also chairman of the Minerals and Mineral Development Board. The board reviews objections to minerals rights and had already reviewed the Verlorenvlei Coalition’s objection, lodged last week.

The “Kumba matter” did not affect the rights award because each mining or prospecting rights application presented to the department was adjudicated individually, he said.

Kumba laid fraud charges with police last August against ICT and the department after ICT was awarded a prospecting right for a portion of the Sishen iron- ore mine. Kumba had submitted a mining right application for the same property, and alleged that its documents had been photocopied by ICT in collusion with department staff.

Martin Coetzee, the advocate representing the Verlorenvlei Coalition, a group of farmers and environmentalists, said the coalition might add to the objection it had lodged against Bongani’s rights award. Their main concerns were that 60% of the vlei’s water came from the Krom Antonies River, the catchment area which is in the middle of the prospecting area; and that mining would impinge on farmers’ right to pursue their livelihood. The river’s water is the cleanest running into the wetland, said Wildlife Society of SA environmentalist Philippa Huntley.

Bongani Minerals director Johannes van der Walt said prospecting would have little effect on the wetland, and that the company’s environmental management plan had been approved.

“We are only going to drill a few small holes…. If there is any spillage we have to clean it up. We have to rehabilitate any plants disturbed,” he said.

Ms Huntley said Verlorenvlei was listed by BirdLife SA as an important bird area because it was a breeding and feeding habitat for water birds. “SA, as signatories to the Ramsar convention, have international obligations to protect this unique estuarine wetland system. However Verlorenvlei does not lie within a formal protected area and as such is afforded little legal protection.”

Mr Khumalo said the wetland was 30km downstream of the proposed prospecting sites and would not be affected. “Specific care” had been taken to exclude agriculturally- and environmentally important areas from the award.

By: Sue Blaine
Source: Business Day

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