A company planning to prospect in the area's pristine wetlands has withdrawn its application.
Controversial plans to mine in the environmentally sensitive Wakkerstroom area have been scrapped. But questions remain about whether the mining company involved, Delta—key members of which have extensive histories with South Africa’s security establishment—exerted political leverage to obtain mining permission in the first place.
It emerged in 2008 that Delta Mining Consolidated had a permit to prospect in Wakkerstroom with the intention of mining more than 20000 hectares of pristine grassland and wetlands. Environmental groups sued Delta and the department of mining to revoke the company’s coal prospecting rights.
Delta told the Mail & Guardian this week it had given up its rights to mine the area because of concerns environmental groups had raised. The mining department confirmed Delta had submitted an application to withdraw its prospecting rights.
“We are elated that Delta has decided not to oppose our legal action,” Angus Burns, project manager of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) Ekangala Grasslands Project, told the M&G.
Delta has close links with the country’s intelligence structures.
National Intelligence Agency (NIA) head Lizo Gibson Njenje told the M&G this week he was in the process of resigning from his Delta directorship.
The late superspy Paul Madaka, killed in a car crash in 2007, was also a director of Delta. His widow, Mandlakazi Madaka, the sister of former trade minister Mandisi Mpahlwa, inherited his shares in Delta and became a director.
Also listed as a director is Nigel Morgan, a former military intelligence officer in the British Army’s Irish Guards, who now works as a freelance intelligence operative in South Africa. Morgan has apparently resigned as well.
Njenje has also been a director of 25 other private companies, including Bosasa Operations, Thatha Security and Iziko Mining. He was also listed in October last year as a shareholder of mining company Simmer & Jack through its empowerment partner Vulisango, of which Njenje owns 22%.
The companies registration office Cipro still had him listed this week as active in 20 of the companies, but it indicated he had resigned as a director from Vulisango. When he was appointed head of the NIA last October, he promised to resign from all of his companies, as required by legislation.
Speaking through his lawyer this week, Njenje said: “On account of my public duties, I can no longer take an active role as a director of Delta. While active as a director of Delta, I participated in various aspects of its business. I was, however, not involved in any irregular act.”
Environmental groups had expressed concern that the political connections of Delta’s directors might have assisted Delta’s obtaining of prospecting and mining rights.
Bernard Swanepoel, a Delta director and spokesperson, said the intelligence links were coincidental, because the directors in question had not held government positions at the time they became involved with the company.
The WWF South Africa, the Botanical Society, Birdlife South Africa and local farmers believed Delta’s environmental study was flawed. It had turned a blind eye to the pristine state of the area and to its biodiversity, including rare birds such as wattled cranes and other red data species, the groups said.
After the environmental groups had lodged two high court applications against the mining plans, they met Delta several times and have now entered into settlement discussions with the company.
This week Swanepoel conceded that the mining house had not consulted widely enough and that Delta’s study might have overlooked certain critical facts. “My advice to small mining houses when looking to mine new areas is to get in touch with organisations such as [the WWF]. You can save yourself a lot of money and headaches if you know what the issue is up front,” he said.
Burns said the environmental groups would go ahead with their court action against the mining department. Their next step is to get the wetlands and surrounding grasslands in Wakkerstroom declared as a “protected environment”.