Opinionista Annerie Weber 19 November 2020

Hit-and-run miners run roughshod over environmental laws in Mpumalanga

The case of the Mpumalanga farmer who woke up one morning to find pirate miners on his land, destroying a wetland, is not an isolated one. And government oversight appears to be missing in action.

On Tuesday 23 July 2019, farmer Stinus Breedt from Hendrina in Mpumalanga found a security fence and temporary offices installed on his farm. He saw an operational open-cast coal mine right in the centre of a wetland bordering the Klein Olifants River.

On protesting to the site manager that he had never been consulted or informed of the granting of a permit, he was told by Eugene Mahlangu, owner of Lunathi Mining, that if he protested the land would be subject to a land grab anyway.

A charge of trespassing was laid at the local police station. The station commander convened a meeting, and Lunathi Mining, after being found not to have the correct documents, was instructed to stop mining until they had them. They stopped for two days and then carried on, without hindrance.

Lunathi Mining claimed to have procured the mining permit from Hlelo Mining, but Hlelo Mining made it clear that they didn’t give permission to use their licence and that in fact, Lunathi was mining illegally on the farm. The “permit” that was provided to Breedt by Mahlangu stated clearly that it was for prospecting only, and only on portion 31. Mahlangu defied this part of the “permit” and mined within a registered wetland on Portion 24. It is important to know that both portions 24 and 31 are registered as agricultural land and can only be used for agriculture. 

The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) in Witbank was contacted to ask for an explanation. None was forthcoming. The department refused to hand over the environmental impact assessment and environmental management plan, which are public documents. Three weeks after lodging a Paia application, I eventually obtained them by refusing to leave the DMRE office in Emalahleni until I got them. After six hours of waiting, the DMRE office provided me with the documents. After studying the documents, the EIA was revealed as a cut-and-paste exercise from various other EIAs.

After two applications for urgent matters at the high court in 2019, which were denied, the court date was set for more than a year later in October 2020.  

Meanwhile, in December 2020, Hendrina had a nine-day rain and the open-cast mine was flooded. The water of the Klein Olifants River came down in flood and this highly toxic water flowed into the water supply of Middelburg and surrounding areas. This was despite two directives from the Department of Water affairs stating clearly they were not permitted to mine in this wetland.

After a legal battle of more than a year, farmer Stinus Breedt rejoiced when on 12 October 2020 a high court judge gave a final interdict against Lunathi Mining, ordering them to restore his possession of Portions 24 and 31 of his farm. Lunathi Mining was ordered to immediately cease mining or any activity incidental thereto and was ordered to rehabilitate the mining area and the wetland on Portions 24 and 31. Lunathi Mining also had to pay costs to Breedt.

Although the fact that the farmer got his farm back should be celebrated and the illegal miners were instructed to leave, the wetland is destroyed.

The possibility that trespassers can come on to private property, start an illegal open-cast coal mine and destroy the ecosystem for more than one full year is unthinkable, but true. It is unacceptable that the environment that we must protect is destroyed by greed by people who refuse to follow the law. The DA will keep on fighting to protect our environment as it is our heritage.

Sadly, this is not an isolated case. I have received similar reports of hit-and-run mining from other areas of Mpumalanga, which we are investigating.

This was a complete failure by the two government departments with areas of environmental oversight, and it was a gross failure of policing. It prompts the question: what use are all South Africa’s numerous environmental and mine licensing laws if they are simply not enforced? DM

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  • Thanks for this detailed report Ms Weber, it confirms what I have suspected for the past few years, that the mainstream coal miners toe the line and eat all the crap that DMR throw at them whilst Midnight cowboys get away with murder.
    The elephant in the room is why? What makes Witbank DMR wide eyed and bushy tailed to some coal miners, and ignorant and blind to others? No further comment needed.

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