Environmental activists are up in arms due to coal-mining operations set to take place near the Mapungubwe National Park in Limpopo, saying mining operations will pollute the area’s water and disturb its biodiversity.
Coal of Africa (CoAL), has signed a letter of intent to supply up to five million tonnes of coal annually from Vele, and its sister project Makhado, to steel giant Arcelor Mittal.
We put a few questions to CoAL CEO John Wallington.
- What is CoAL’s reaction to environmentalist comment to stop mining operations near the Mapungubwe National Park? How will environmental conservation issues be taken into account?
- Does Coal acknowledge that it began activities without the necessary environmental permission?
- Does CoALhave a licence to use water?
- Why is Coal determined to mine near the Mapungubwe National Park?
Coal of Africa (CoAL) Limited welcomes the environmentalist’s reaction to the Vele Colliery Project as they are Interested and Affected Parties (IAP’s) in the area. Coal of Africa Ltd is aware of the rich cultural heritage which is centred mainly on the Citadel in Mapungubwe. The mine is not located within the Mapungubwe National Park, the Transfrontier Conservancy area or their associated buffer zones. The eastern boundary of the mining right area is approximately 27km from the Citadel.
CoAL followed a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process as well as compiling a 2000 page Environmental Management Plan (EMP), which followed extensive engagement with all stakeholders to establish specific issues in line with the regulations of the South African Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA), Act # 28 of 2002, as required by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR). The EMP document includes numerous expert reports covering impact assessments and mitigation measures on the following areas: soil and land use, biodiversity, surface water, ground water, air quality, noise, heritage and paleontology, visual impacts, effects of blasting and socio and macroeconomic issues.
The environmental planning processes, including the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Management Plan (EMP) for Vele Colliery were managed by 12 highly qualified independent environmental/social practitioners and experts in their related fields. The assessment process included a scoping phase, detailed impact assessments and extensive stakeholder consultation, all in accordance with the requirements of the South African Department of Minerals and Energy.
Coal of Africa Ltd’s current land holding is in excess of 7 000 hectare and it is committed to improving both fauna and flora values on its owned properties. The Company will aim to come to an agreement with adjacent landowners to create animal corridors where practically feasible. In addition, CoAL has allocated land for increased game farming activity.
The Company is also committed to spending sufficient amounts to ensure minimal adverse impacts on the environment. Once the mine is operational, in excess of R18-million per annum will be committed to environmental management. Rehabilitation and revegetation, offset biodiversity programmes, dust suppression, rescue and relocation of protected fauna and flora, environmental monitoring and auditing will all form part of the ongoing programme. A further R160-million has been allocated over the first five years for skills development, infrastructure development and community services.
In terms of cultural heritage management, Coal of Africa Ltd has committed to involving the indigenous communities and other experts in identifying and assessing the cultural value of the area. Commitment has been given to recording as many of the archaeological sites as possible to be revealed by the mining, and assessing these sites in terms of archaeological importance and to undertake appropriate mitigation. The Company will also consult the local tribal community with regard to the relocation of any graves.
If archaeological sites are revealed by mining the CoAL will record and preserve the items, will consult the local tribal community and apply for a permit under section 36 of the National Heritage Resources Act. Authorisation, in terms of the Human Tissues Act and regulation of the provincial department of health with regard to the relocation of graves, will be obtained, where necessary. An archaeologist and palaeontologist will be employed on a retainer basis to monitor any new excavations for archaeological and/or palaeontological artifacts.
Coal believes that by applying responsible management of all aspects of mining, it is possible for the mines, ecotourism and the communities to co-exist for the benefit of all parties and in response to the development needs of the region. Consequently the aim is to leave a surface which approximates the pre-mining aspect, slope and drainage density of the area. As the open pit is moved forward, rehabilitation will occur on the mined out areas. The Company will strive to limit the environmental impacts of operations through efficient use of natural resources and to reduce input materials such as water, electricity and waste. CoAL’s approach to sustainable development is an integral part of its business. We use the latest technologies and practices for sustainable and modern mining methods, offering efficiencies, improved productivity and regulatory compliance.
On March 19 2010, the DMR executed CoAL’s New Order Mining Rights (NOMR) for the Vele coking coal project including the approval of the Vele EMP. The development of the site commenced immediately thereafter. On April 7 2010 the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) refused CoAL authorization to build an access road on one of the CoAL farms, Erfrust 123MS, adjoining the Vele Colliery mining right area as well as to construct above ground bulk fuel storage facilities. CoAL sought these authorizations in accordance with the requirements of the South African National Environmental Management Act, Act # 107 of 1998 (“NEMA”). The requirement to approve these additional activities are listed under NEMA but are not directly related to the authorized mining operations.
On the August 5 2010, Coal of Africa was issued a Compliance Notice by the DEA for commencement of listed activities within and outside the licensed mining area. These
include; a servitude road and road networks within the mining area, vegetation clearance, slurry dam construction and, construction of road culverts. CoAL has adhered to the Compliance Notice in full and has since lodged a “Class Application” in terms of Section 24G of NEMA to ensure compliance with the DEA notice. All activities at the mine were halted in line with the compliance notice on August 5 2010. As required by the directive, an Independent Environmental Assessment Practitioner (EAP) has been appointed to assess the current and proposed activities in conjunction with the Integrated Water Use License Application (IWULA) process.
CoAL would like to confirm that it has had constructive engagement with senior officials of the DEA and both parties are continuing to work together to achieve a speedy resolution to the matter.
CoAL does not currently have an Integrated Water Use licence but continues to engage with the authorities in this regard.
Mapungubwe represents the heritage not only of the indigenous South African tribes but a milestone in the development of African economic and cultural systems. We are aware of the importance of the Mapungubwe hill in tracing the history of the African kingdoms in the Southern Africa region. The Mapungubwe Park is situated in one of South Africa’s least developed provinces – Limpopo.
The area hosts a significant resource of metallurgical (coking) coal which is used extensively in the manufacture of steel. This coal is not found in economic levels anywhere else in the country. The coal is highly demanded globally and will significantly improve the country’s balance of payment through export proceeds.
The mine is approximately 48km from the Musina town. It is our view that together with the existing industries of tourism and agriculture that have previously contributed to the development of the Limpopo communities can uplift the lives of ordinary South Africans. The numerous benefits of the mine include;
- Vele mine will contribute towards the economic development and wealth of Musina and surrounding communities through 28 000 direct and indirect employment opportunities during both the construction and operational phases. According to socio-economic surveys conducted of Musina, each person supports on average six dependants.
- At the time of suspending operations we had approximately 860 workers on site.
- Coal of Africa Ltd’s Vele Colliery will be a significant contributor to South Africa’s GDP. Over R2-billion will be spent during construction and R9,7-billion during the operational phase. This will bring about significant growth of related industries and sectors in the province and South Africa as a whole.
- The mine will be a major contributor to the growth of the South African economy and will also support the South African Department of Trade and industry’s drive to increase value of exports as a contribution to GDP. At a proposed production rate of 5 Mt per annum, Vele will improve South Africa’s balance of payments by a conservative R6.4billion per annum through import replacement and export earnings.
- CoAL is committed to spending R85-million over a five-year period for Local Economic Development i.e. infrastructure projects, social investment, health and welfare projects and environmental projects.
- The Company will also contribute R70-million over an eight year period towards human resources development programmes such as skills development, career progression plan, mentorship plan and internship and bursary plans.
- CoAL has already launched a R10-million Bursary scheme which will see students from the province educated in mining related tertiary courses such as engineering. The Thovhele Toni Mphephu Rambulana Bursary Trust, launched in 2009 sponsoring 32 students at the time, has grown significantly in 2010. Currently the Trust is funding 39 students from communities in the Vhembe region in Venda (Limpopo) and in Ermelo (Mpumalanga) where CoAL has its thermal coal assets. The bursary fund will make a significant difference to students from under-represented groups in the region, particularly those who may not have otherwise considered or afforded tertiary education.