A landmark court ruling has ensured that directors can be held liable for the environmental damage done by their companies.
Matome Maponya, the managing director of clay-mining company Blue Platinum Ventures, has become the first director in South Africa to be held personally liable for a mining-related environmental offence.
The director of Blue Platinum, based in Tzaneen in Limpopo, was found guilty of causing environmental degradation outside Batlhabine village, near the town. The company had also not undertaken any of the rehabilitation measures required by both the department of environmental affairs and the department of mineral affairs.
The cost of rehabilitation was estimated by the court at R6.8-million. It gave Maponya a five-year suspended sentence, on condition that the damage was rehabilitated in three months. Maponya and Blue Platinum pleaded guilty to contravening section 24F of the National Environmental Management Act.
The decisions comes after several years of court action by the community, which laid criminal charges against the mine and its directors, through the Centre for Environmental Rights, which represented the community.
Melissa Fourie, its executive director, said the lack of a fine was an important element of the decision. "Mr Maponya was not given the option of a fine, and his suspended sentence is directly linked to the damage caused."
This was an important step in ensuring mines had more at stake when it came to complying with environmental legislation. "The time has come for greater accountability for environmental damage in the mining sector, not only by mining companies themselves for the devastating effects of their environmental violations, but also by office-bearers who make the decisions that cause such damage," she said.
Mashile Phalane, a community representative, said, "We are very happy about the outcome of this case and we will be closely monitoring Mr Maponya's compliance with the court's order to rehabilitate damaged areas."