Business Maverick


Mpumalanga has become a coveted coal black hole for SA mining applications 

Mpumalanga has become a coveted coal black hole for SA mining applications 
Deputy director-general of Mineral and Energy Regulation Tseliso Maqubela presents on Mineral Rights during Limpopo Mining Investment Conference. 28 September 2021. (Photo: Limpopo Provincial Government / X)

Mpumalanga remains the mysterious black hole which keeps expanding South Africa’s backlog in mining applications. Tseliso Maqubela, deputy director-general for petroleum and regulation at the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, says this is a reflection of an overlooked item in the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act.

The main bottleneck for various kinds of mining applications remains Mpumalanga, which has an abundance of coveted coal.

The deputy director-general for petroleum and regulation at the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), Tseliso Maqubela, reiterated this point at Resources for Africa’s Junior Indaba in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

Mpumalanga accounts for about two-thirds of a currently undisclosed backlog which stood at over 5,000 three years ago — Maqubela elaborated on this in an interview with Daily Maverick on the sidelines of the conference.

Read more in Daily Maverick: DMRE says cadastre on track, with 2,800 mining applications finally approved in 2023

“The issue of mining permits was overlooked when the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) was amended in 2008,” Maqubela explained.

“When an application is made for a mining or prospecting right, only one can be accepted. That does not apply to permits. Multiple applications can be made.”

Mining permits are far less onerous to obtain than mining rights and only cover up to 5ha. They don’t require a social and labour plan or an extensive environmental impact assessment. Their design is meant to support small businesses such as brickworks or sand mines to service a small town or rural hamlet.

But in Mpumalanga, as Daily Maverick has reported before, there has been a deluge of such permits for small-scale coal operations.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Mining permits point to shady Mpumalanga scramble for coal

Maqubela said most of these don’t have a chance of being approved, but they gum up the DMRE’s already struggling applications system.

Maqubela also told Daily Maverick that in one case, 33 different applications were made for a single permit on land over which coal producer Seriti holds the mining rights.

The suspicion has been that applications are also being made for permits on contiguous parcels of land so that, after a while, you have a much bigger coal operation than one of 5ha.

It all begs an obvious question: why would so many no-hopers submit applications for permits that will be rejected?

One plausible answer is that through whatever means, the people or groups submitting such applications are betting that someone in the DMRE’s Mpumalanga offices will approve it.

Tightening the loophole in the MPRDA to which Maqubela referred — to limit the number of permit applications for one piece of ground — would hopefully help to close the floodgates.

It all highlights the crying need for a functional mining cadastre.

The senior-level agreement with the selected consortium to implement South Africa’s was signed on Monday, and so that process seems to be on track after a long and winding road.

Meanwhile, the application process in Mpumalanga remains a mess. Coal is by its nature a dirty business and it has even dirtier sides below the surface. DM


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