BUSINESS MAVERICK

Obscure company targets coal mining project on Kruger Park doorstep

By Ed Stoddard 25 June 2019
Caption
A row is brewing over plans for a coal mine on the doorstep of the Kruger Park. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Katherine Muick-Mere)

A little-known company called Manzolwandle Investments wants to start coal mining operations on the doorstep of the Kruger Park’s southern border, near Komatipoort. It has already submitted a scoping report, which is an initial assessment of a mining project’s viability. Local residents are concerned and it is sure to get on the radar screen of conservationists.

On Thursday 27 June a public meeting will be Kambaku Golf Club in Komatipoort to discuss the issue of “mining in Nkomazi”, the Lowveld municipality where the sun rises over Mpumalanga. According to the invitation, which was sent to Business Maverick, the featured speakers are from Mpumalanga Agriculture, the Kruger National Park and the Crocodile River Irrigation Board.

These speakers will share with us the points of view of organized agriculture, water affairs and the Kruger National Park regarding mining in Nkomazi. This refers to all existing and contemplated mining in Nkomazi, and includes the latest publication of interest in mining by Manzolwandle Investments (Pty) Ltd,” the invitation says.

Attendance is free of charge, but lunch will cost you R120. Given the thorniness of the issue, it might be best if plonk is not served.

A short briefing regarding the success of the Kruger Park forces against the rhino poaching will be offered too during the meeting,” the invitation says.

The rhino briefing is, of course, a sideshow to the main event: the prospect of coal mining near the Kruger Park, in a sweltering Lowveld region where commercial sugar farmers and other economic players are competing for scarce water resources. Local residents are worried and are gearing up for a scrap.

I am concerned, where will the water come from?” Warren Carne, a property owner in Marloth Park, a residential development on Kruger’s south side, told Business Maverick.

Given its close proximity to the country’s pride and joy, namely Kruger National Park, what of the environmental impact? Previous mine applications were turned down in years gone by; are these prospectors simply trying their luck every few years trying to wear down residents? To mine so close to KNP is laughable. Mining in this area is simply not on.”

The story was first reported in August 2018 by the Corridor Gazette, a local Mpumalanga newspaper, which said an application for mining rights had been made for almost 18,000 hectares near Marloth Park. It reported that it was for an open-pit anthracite operation. Anthracite is a hard and rare form of coal valued for its energy intensity and relatively clean burn.

The company in question, Manzolwandle Investments, is about as transparent as a lump of coal. It does not appear to have a website, though a search of the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission’s site shows a company with that name based in Witbank, which is the centre of the coal country. Business Maverick was not able to reach anyone linked to the company to send questions to.

A source at the Department of Mineral Resources said a company by that name had four applications on its system, all for coal. Two were for prospecting, one was a mining right, and the other was a mining permit.

Asked about Manzolwandle Investments and its intentions to mine coal in the area, the DMR said that an application has been accepted and a scoping report had been submitted.

The department can confirm that an application was received on 19 July 2018 and was accepted on 12 September 2018. The scoping report, received on 31 August 2018, does not indicate that the area is within a protected area. However, it mentions that it is on the immediate eastern side of Komatipoort airport. The applicant will be advised to consult the Mpumalanga Tourism Agency (MPTA) to indicate the buffer between the application and protected area,” the DMR said in an emailed response to queries from Business Maverick.

This means that the mining right and mining application have been accepted as applications, but the company has not been given a green light at this stage to commence mining operations – it does not have the right or permit yet. And the scoping phase is early days. A scoping report lays out the initial assessment of a proposed mining project, including thumbsucks about capital investments and things of that nature. As one mining executive put it, “It is not something that is bankable. You cannot go to a bank and get funding based on a scoping study. More work needs to be done before you get to that stage.”

South African National Parks (SANParks) did not respond to requests for comment.

Just east of the Komatipoort airport would place it just west of the town of Komatipoort and the R571 road which leads to the Crocodile Bridge entrance to the Kruger Park. That raises all kinds of questions: where will the water come from? Will tourists be sharing the road with mining trucks? How visible will the operation be? And then there are wider concerns regarding flora and fauna – the wildlife in the area does not begin and end at the Kruger fence.

Mining in close proximity to Kruger is not unprecedented, nor is it pretty. The Palabora Mining Company operates a copper mine and a smelter and refinery complex in the town of Phalaborwa, just to the west of the Kruger. This correspondent viewed it from the air years ago from a SANParks helicopter, and it is a jarring juxtaposition of belching industry on one side and Kruger wilderness on the other.

It also remains to be seen if such a coal project would be “bankable”. As Business Maverick reported earlier in June, banks are increasingly reluctant to fund new coal projects because of the links between fossil fuel emissions and climate change. Throw Kruger Park into the coal mix and you are unlikely to find any bank, at least in South Africa, that would throw cash at such an operation.

Expect sparks to fly at this week’s public meeting in Komatipoort. BM

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