Cape farmers celebrate withdrawal of mining bid

Farmers in the Western Cape were overjoyed last Friday when the state mining company's applications to prospect on their properties were officially withdrawn—hours after a Mail & Guardian report on the issue hit the streets.

After the report appeared, and following a stream of objections from landowners, minerals department director general Sandile Nogxina told the M&G he would look into the applications by African Exploration and Finance Company to prospect on the Boontjies Rivier Farm in Worcester and a number of farms in George.

Nogxina confirmed this week that he had contacted African Exploration chairperson Mputumi Damane, who then gave orders for the prospecting applications to be withdrawn on the same day.

African Exploration is owned by the government's Central Energy Fund and Damane is the CEF's group chief executive.

"Damane had already indicated the company was withdrawing its applications to prospect for minerals in the Western Cape, for strategic business reasons," said Nogxina. "These applications could have happened as a result of a lack of communication somewhere."

Asked whether mining companies should simply study a geological map of the area and pinpoint where they would like to search for minerals, Nogxina said this happened all the time.

"You'd be surprised at some of the applications we get," said Nogxina. "Companies look at geological maps and check whether other mining rights exist.
The maps don't indicate what other operations are already going on there."

This week Nogxina said he had turned down applications in residential areas and on a nature reserve in the Northern Cape.

"We're a responsible department—you can't just go in and prospect without an owner's permission. A state mining company would also have to follow all the regulations and we are very stringent with them," he said. "We must lead by example."

A public outcry over plans to hunt for minerals on the Cape winelands led to the withdrawal two weeks ago of African Exploration's applications to prospect on several wine farms in Cape Town and Stellenbosch.

The last Western Cape wine farm still under threat is Bellevue, in the Bottelary area between Kuils River and Stellenbosch. Brickmaker Corobrik has been granted rights to prospect for clay there without the owner's permission.

Winemaker Dirkie Morkel said he had not vigorously objected to the process as he had considered the application "absurd".

"We're still hoping Corobrik will draw back because of public resistance," said Morkel, a fourth-generation wine farmer.

Nogxina said he had now instructed Western Cape officials that a solution must be found to Corobrik's permit, as no company could prospect on a farm without the owner's permission.

"If the farmer had objected, the prospecting right would never have been granted," he said.

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country. Read more from Glynnis Underhill

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