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Piketberg landowners block Bongani Minerals access to protected West Coast area as court battle looms

Piketberg landowners block Bongani Minerals access to protected West Coast area as court battle looms
Jacqui van der Merwe, biochemist, and husband, Dr Bennie van der Merwe, an equine veterinarian, own a champion stud farm in Moutonshoek and also lease the property where they are seated in the photo, exactly where the proposed opencast tungsten mine will be excavated. (Photo: John Yeld)

New salvo fired in decades-old opencast tungsten mine proposal.

The latest attempt by a small mining company to get formal approval for a massive open cast tungsten mine in the West Coast region is again before the courts.

At the centre of the case are three farms being eyed by Somerset West-based Bongani Minerals (Pty) Ltd for its proposed mine. The farms are in the heart of the Moutonshoek valley near Piketberg, within the boundaries of the Moutonshoek Protected Environment (MPE), proclaimed by Western Cape environment MEC Anton Bredell on 25 May 2018 under the National Environmental Management Protected Areas Act.

Also called the Krom Antonies valley from the river that runs through it, Moutonshoek has a 300-year history of intensive agriculture, but it remains rich in natural biodiversity and is a crucial water catchment area, including for the nearby Verlorenvlei — a Ramsar wetland site of international importance.

Mining and prospecting are not permitted within a Protected Environment, unless the national Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment [DFFE], currently Barbara Creecy, grants special consent.

Among a host of other concerns, objectors to the proposed mine argue that the three properties’ Protected Environment status is just one of several so-called “show-stoppers” or “fatal flaws” that, each on their own merits, should be sufficient to immediately stop the mining right application in its tracks.

Moutonshoek valley near Piketberg, Bongani Minerals

The beautiful Moutonshoek valley near Piketberg where Bongani Minerals wants to excavate a massive opencast tungsten mine. (Photo: John Yeld)

Bongani Minerals has been attempting since 2004 to obtain mining rights to extract mostly tungsten and molybdenum ore, but also rare earths, copper, zinc, gold, silver, tin, aggregate and sand, from the three farms that total 531 hectares in Moutonshoek.

Its mining proposal includes a 37ha opencast pit, an overburden/waste rock stockpile area of 137ha, and a tailings dam area of about 45ha, with an overall mining footprint of some 217ha once fully operational.

One of the three properties is a champion stud farm owned by Mary Slack, daughter of mining magnate Harry Oppenheimer, and the other two properties are controlled by a major South African commercial fruit farming company, Laeveld Sitrus, that is owned by the Vorster family.

In an application to the Western Cape high court, Bongani Minerals wants to have Bredell’s proclamation of the Moutonshoek Protected Environment reviewed and set aside. It is also asking for a court order to force the owners of the three farms to allow its staff, environmental experts and any of its agents access to the properties so that they can complete studies required for the adjudication of a mining right by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE).

The mining company argues inter alia that Bredell made the proclamation “at the behest of other role players, in particular the landowners”, and that he had “an ulterior motive or object” in including the farms in the protected environment — “and that object was to purposefully derail [Bongani’s] rights”. He had also not given the company an opportunity to comment on the proposed proclamation, it argues.

Bongani states in court papers that it stands to lose its current approval to apply for a mining right if it’s not able to complete studies for the environmental impact assessment process within the statutory time limits, but that its access to the properties has been blocked.

Replying papers have not yet been filed, but the proposed mine is being strenuously opposed by the landowners and by more than 700 other objectors who include statutory authorities, environmental groups, other property owners in the region and individuals. Most of them have already submitted objections as part of the scoping process that is the first step to obtaining the required Environmental Authorisation (EA) to mine.

There are another 130-odd farms or farm portions covering almost 35,000ha within a 10-kilometre radius of the proposed mine, including three that are adjacent or very close to it and that are owned by another major commercial farming company, the Karsten Group, based in Kanoneiland west of Upington along the Orange River.

Cape Town advocate Martin Coetzee, who is representing the Karsten Group and many other objectors, sent his clients an email message this week containing a copy of Bongani’s court application. He wrote: “Between Webbers [law firm Webber Wentzel which is representing some landowners] and myself, we are attending to this on behalf of our clients.”

tungsten mine layout at Moutonshoek, Bongani Minerals

3D schematic of the proposed tungsten mine layout at Moutonshoek. (Source: Final Scooping Report, Greenmined Environmental)

Bongani Minerals faces a major hurdle before the court will consider hearing its application: the issue of prescription. The prescribed period for bringing a high court review application is 180 days. Bredell proclaimed and gazetted the Moutonshoek Protected in May 2018, so the prescribed period lapsed in November 2018.

Applying for condonation of the lateness of the application, Lionel Koster, director of Bongani Minerals, declares in his founding affidavit that Bongani only became aware of the proclamation shortly before 30 November last year [2022].

“As far as the fact is concerned that the publication [in the provincial gazette] had already occurred in 2018, [Bongani] was initially completely unaware of the publication. [Bongani] only became aware of the publication when [it] attempted to comply with its duties to obtain the environmental reports, and engaged the experts to gain access to the properties.

“[Bongani] then hoped to resolve the matter amicably and engaged its attorneys, in the hope that the landowners would then grant the necessary consent for access, but to no avail.”

But Koster’s claim is disputed by Coetzee, who told GroundUp it was clear from documentation relating to Bongani’s 2019 mining right application that Bongani, Koster and their environmental consultant, Greenmined, were all aware as early as December 2018 that this proposed mining right application (later terminated) extended over the Moutonshoek Protected Environment.

“It would be more correct to say that Bongani, Greenmined and Koster were in fact personally informed by the National Department on 6 December 2018 of the fact that the Moutonshoek Protected Environment was duly promulgated, as confirmed by Greenmined,” Coetzee said.

“They could/should have brought their application then. They did not. This then should destroy their justification for bringing a review application that is almost five years late in terms of the Court Rules.” DM

First published by GroundUp.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • bronsmith says:

    Amidst all of the objections, actual landowners/businesses presently ON the land they want to strip-mine and the general, obvious, inadvisability of putting a *mine* with inevitable waste runoff in the middle of a *valley* that farms food … Do they honestly think that they will get permission to do it?!?

  • John Smythe says:

    I’m uninformed about this kind of thing. But, surely it’s up to the landowners to agree to the mining. It seems a bit skewed that mining companies feel or seem to have an inate and overriding right to mine on anyone’s property whether the property owner agrees or not.

    • Nic Bosveld says:

      Landowners do not own the minerals that lie below ground level, government does. It is therefore government’s decision to grant prospecting and mining rights.
      But I think, with Mary Slack in the mix, Bongani faces an uphill battle.

    • William Stucke says:

      The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act 28 of 2002 “nationalised” mineral rights. All mineral rights were taken by the State, without compensation, IIRC.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Bongani Minerals go away,preferably Mars!!!

    • Moraig Peden says:

      This battle is a recurring one all over SA and the world – the massive environmental destruction caused by mining. Hopefully Moutonshoek wins this battle – but the war goes on. Consumerism and capitalism will not rest until we have exploited/destroyed every inch of the planet.

  • Brian Cotter says:

    You don’t believe we are on the eve of destruction

  • Donald bemax says:

    As Ironic as it may be ,I am told that farmers have the surface agricultural rights as the landowners but the subsurface mineral rights belong to the government.

    • Annemarie Reis says:

      “Merchant of Venice ” case.
      Have your minerals, but do not disturb the soil.
      A good judge would remember that case?

  • Katharine Ambrose says:

    It’s not so much about all these contemporary individuals and what the minerals are or what use the land has now. It’s about permission to destroy a place of beauty forever. Then we’ll all be losers.

  • Luan Sml says:

    One only has to visit the “cultural heartland” in Mpumalanga to see the devastation and destruction of open-cast coal mines… and realise that rehabilitation, which never occurs and also raises the question of where those “funds” are, will ever restore the natural beauty for future generations nor mitigate the ecological devastation!
    Fight to preserve this beautiful area of the west coast!

  • sl0m0 za says:

    The opencast and tailing areas are right over the natural runoff lines and will contaminate groundwater for the whole area. The noise pollution alone in a very quiet area will be extremely destructive.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Is Bongani Minerals (pty) politically connected in any way to any Government employer? The answer to this question will tell us everything.

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      And are Bongani Minerals a division of Bongani Investments – an Angolan company that seems to have many fingers in various pies! It’s hard to gauge as googling either company seems to confuse one with smoke and mirrors!

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