'Emotions must be set aside' in Mapungubwe decision

Science—not emotion—was behind the decision to grant a permit to Australian mining company Coal of Africa (CoAL), to continue construction near the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site, the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs said on Wednesday.

“When we deal with biodiversity, we need science ... and it informs us,” deputy director-general for biodiversity and conservation, Fundisile Mkhetheli, told journalists in Pretoria.

“Studies were done and emotions must be set aside and science [put] upfront.”

He said instead of people basing their judgment on emotions, they should instead examine studies that had been conducted.

Organisations have threatened legal action should the department decide to grant authorisation for further construction.

The department’s Ishaam Abader defended the decision to grant environmental consent for CoAL’s Vele colliery, saying any impact could be mitigated. He said indigenous vegetation could be moved from where roads would be built, and planted elsewhere.

Abader said the company would have to abide by special conditions due to the project’s proximity to Mapungubwe.
The mine is about 6km from the Mapungubwe National Park.

Operations at the mine were put on hold in August last year when it was discovered the company did not comply with the National Environmental Management Act. CoAL subsequently paid the department a R9.25-million administrative fine.

A notice of intention to appeal the department’s decision had to be lodged with the minister within 20 days, from the date of the authorisation, July 5.

No appeals had been received by Wednesday, said Abader, adding that the public had until July 25 to do so.

The Mail & Guardian reported on July 15 that the national park’s listing as a World Heritage Site was now in doubt.

At its 35th session in Paris at the end of June, the World Heritage Committee reiterated its concerns about the “potential adverse impact of the approved mining site”. Mapungubwe in Limpopo was listed as a site of “outstanding universal value” in 2003 because of its significance as a trove of ancient African civilisation.

The committee said South Africa had committed to “continue halting the mining operations” until a joint World Heritage Centre and International Council of Monuments and Sites monitoring mission had taken place in November 2011. The mission would submit a report by February next year for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 36th session, in June 2012.

CoAL chief executive John Wallington has said construction would be completed within six to nine months. The company planned to produce an initial one million tonnes a year of coking coal. - Sapa and Staff reporter

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