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Misinformation about Tendele Coal Mine’s operations is heightening tension

(Photo: psychologicalscience.org / Wikipedia)

Daily Maverick has carried a number of articles in recent weeks on our Tendele Mine, in which a number of assertions have been made. We accept that people look at things from different perspectives. Mine management is always open to engagement on any issues. Those making emotive allegations should be aware that tension in the area is heightened by misinformation.

Claim: It has been asserted that our coal truck operators are ‘reportedly not locals’. 

In fact, all truck operators are local. Tendele is proud to have assisted local entrepreneurs to establish businesses. The mine contracts with some 70 local businesses, mostly operating under the Mpukunyoni Business Association. 

The association’s members transport our anthracite to the harbour for export purposes. All their employees are from the hosting community, and so too are the operators on site who operate our equipment. Beyond that, 100% of our employees are South African and 87% are from the hosting community.

There are local customers who purchase and collect product from the mine and supply their own trucks and drivers. We have no control as to who they employ.

It is stated that community leaders and families refusing to relocate have experienced ‘threats (including anonymous phone calls), overt intimidation, malicious damage to property, including arson attacks, and, in collusion with local police, malicious arrests (over 70 in 2017)’.

We can assure that, if and where such incidents have occurred, it has not been at the behest of the mine. Where anyone experiences such incidents, we invite them, or their representatives, to advise us of this. Mine management undertakes to support any investigations into such activities. We urge the SAPS to investigate any such incidents thoroughly. 

We also call on the majority of community members, who support the continued operation of the mine, to discourage any intimidatory activities that might be occurring. 

We have no knowledge of the alleged “over 70 arrests” of mine opponents mentioned. We invite further elucidation.

There was a claim of people in a remote area ‘being served with hundreds of pages of documents by the mine’s lawyers, ordering them to appear in court in Pietermaritzburg in June’. 

This was in respect of families refusing to discuss compensation with the mine and others were in deadlock regarding what compensation would be fair. It was then decided to approach the court for a determination of what would constitute fair compensation. 

The planned action was subsequently postponed because it was agreed by the parties to attempt mediation first.

It is alleged that houses near the operations are cracked and there is no compensation. It is also alleged that coal dust ‘is linked to an explosion of respiratory illnesses and deaths’.

The mine uses an independent third party, Blast Analysis Africa, which monitors every blast using seismographs. The results are then compared with the United States Bureau of Mines (USBM) standards for blasting. House cracks have been reported. These have been investigated by third-party structural engineers but found to be due to poor workmanship and not because of blasting. Some of the householders who lodged complaints stay as far away as 5km or further.

All third-party monitoring results are available to community representatives and other stakeholders on request. There have also been training sessions for the representatives to show them how the seismographs work for blasting.

Where a community member complains about dust or blasting, we offer to put up a seismograph or dust bucket at their homestead for a period to monitor the situation and, whenever necessary, assist in resolving their issues.

Regarding dust, the mine is heavily regulated by various laws. The mine conforms to the standards as stipulated for fall-out dust. Where complaints have been raised to the community department or to the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, the allegations have been investigated and additional sampling has been done. We acknowledge that there is sometimes “nuisance dust” which may be briefly uncomfortable. But it is within regulatory limits, and definitely not any danger to health at all. 

The allegations of respiratory illnesses and deaths are unfounded. A recent third-party health survey, conducted by GCS Environmental, around the mine in early 2020 confirmed this judgement. 

Tendele carries out annual medicals for all staff onsite. No employee has been found to have respiratory illnesses because of anthracite. Tendele also undergoes PM10 sampling – personal and perimeter sampling, of which is monitored against the Mine Health and Safety Act regulations. Tendele has been found to be compliant. 

It has been asserted that laws regarding ancestral graves are ignored, and that the mine is insensitive to communities’ cultural attachment to the land. 

The fact is that every grave that has been moved since 2002 has been done with a formal signed agreement with the head of household. Compensation is always paid for necessary rites and rituals. All graves were moved by registered undertakers to where the families requested. 

Tendele had meetings with Amafa, the provincial heritage institute. The body acknowledged that all procedures to relocate graves had been carried out correctly, except for the absence of Amafa permits. This oversight has been corrected. Amafa has accepted our new Heritage Management Plan, which we follow.  

It is also asserted that ‘large areas of precious cultivated farmland have been lost and nutritional levels have suffered’.

The premining state of the area, as per the Environmental Impact Assessments, was that of grazing land. No areas were classified as “cultivated farmlands”. There are small areas where subsistence farming is practiced, but as per the soil and land-use capabilities study done, as well as other specialist studies completed, the area is not classified in general as arable land, or suitable for large-scale cultivation.

There are also allegations about water. It is alleged that access to the Umfolozi River has been fenced off, that streams people formerly relied on have dried up, and the mine reportedly uses precious groundwater. It is alleged that rainwater storage tanks are polluted with coal dust.

These allegations are untrue. The Umfolozi River has never been fenced off. The mine has added water collection points within the surrounding community, so people do not have to travel all the way to the river to access water. 

On average, Tendele supplies 40 loads of drinking water a month via water tankers at 16 water collection points in the surrounding community, providing water to some 5,000 people on a monthly basis. This is not a legal requirement, but done to assist the municipality with service delivery in the area.

Tendele has also equipped one of the licensed boreholes at the Umfolozi River to a water supply scheme, in collaboration with the uMkhanyakude District Municipality, to provide water via JoJo tanks which flows through a purification system. The municipality has concluded that Tendele uses less than 1,5% of the water resources in the area, compared to some 53% by the sugar cane industry.

The streams referred to around the site have always been ephemeral, even prior to mining. This can be shown as our monitoring started before mining commenced. All monitoring data shows that the mine’s water usage has not affected any groundwater to date since the mine only uses water from the Umfolozi River. This is confirmed by the annual and quarterly reports sent to the Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation by third-party specialists. To date Tendele has only used some 12% of the allowed licensed allocation for abstraction from the Umfolozi River. Tendele also only uses boreholes along the Umfolozi River, abstracting from the underground aquifer of the Umfolozi and not surface water, thus not impacting on direct flow. 

Allegations of drinking water being contaminated with coal dust have been mentioned numerous times. Unfortunately, usually when we try to investigate these allegations, complainants do not come forward to provide information, or the tanks are empty when we try to test the water. When we have been able to send water samples for testing, there has been no evidence of coal dust. Any contaminants found do not originate from the mine. 

It is stated that taps are dry and whole areas are without water, even from tankers, despite ongoing appeals to the local and district municipalities. It is also stated that 29 women protesting with their buckets were arrested and spent nine days in prison.

These areas have been without water since late 2015/16 with the onset of the drought which also impacted the mine as well as the rest of the province. During this period the mine made changes to its water usage and reticulation systems to ensure it uses the minimum water and rather recirculates as much as possible. The appeals mentioned here were to the local and district municipalities due to the shortages of tankers and water in the Hluhluwe Dam. Since 2015/16 the mine has assisted the municipality and has been supplying potable water to 16 dedicated water collection points to assist these communities with water because the municipalities cannot. We are not aware of the women who were arrested regarding water and it was most certainly not at the request of the mine. DM/MC

Jan du Preez is the CEO of Tendele.

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