Mining Mirror May 2017 - Page 16

Excursion On a collision course The recent controversy stirred up by Atha Africa Ventures’ successful bid to mine coal in a protected environment has once again raised questions about whether mining and conservation are on a collision course, writes Leon Louw. T he recent decision by the Minister of Mineral Resources and the Minister of Environmental Affairs to award Atha Africa Ventures permission to mine coal in a protected environment from the Yzermyn in the Wakkerstroom area in Mpumalanga, was met with stern resistance by environmental groups. Atha plans to develop an underground mine to access two coal seams before the end of this year. Although the pressure groups have drawn a clear line in the sand, Praveer Tripathi, senior vice-president at Atha Africa Ventures, is adamant that construction of the mine will start as early as June this year. Tripathi says that the first coal is expected to be delivered to surface by the end of October. And [14] MINING MIRROR MAY 2017 by the looks of it, it’s all systems go. Although there have been complications along the way, the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) issued a mining right in April 2015, the environmental authorisation was awarded in August 2016, and the water use license was issued towards the end of last year. So why all the controversy? Mining in a sensitive area Yzermyn is located in a sensitive and critical water catchment area in South Africa. It is also a biodiversity priority area. Although it is the source of three major South African rivers (the Tugela, the Vaal, and the Pongola), Tripathi says the proposed mine does not impact on the source of these rivers. “It was found that the mitigation measures were adequate to ensure that downstream users will not be negatively affected.” The area has been classified as a Strategic Water Source Area, a National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Area, and an Aquatic Critical Biodiversity Area. According to the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, the difference between a legally protected area and a protected environment — such as Mabola — is: “A legally protected area includes nature reserves, national parks, and special nature reserves, where mining in any form is prohibited. On the other hand, mining is allowed in a protected environment, but with the necessary permission from the Minister of Environmental Affairs and the Minister of Mineral Resources.” Eight months before Atha was awarded the mining right and 10 months after