State-owned mine shuts amid controversy

A partly state-owned coal mine in Mpumalanga was forced to close down two months ago due to community violence, amid concerns that it was operating without a water licence.

The Nkomati Anthracite Coal Mine in Komatipoort near the Mozambican border was fingered in Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa’s report to Parliament as one of 41 mining companies that were operating in the province without water licences.

Molewa told parliamentarians that Nkomati Anthracite, which is 40% owned by the Mpumalanga provincial government through its parastatal, Mpumalanga Economic Growth Agency (Mega), was in violation of environmental laws.

Molewa said Nkomati Anthracite and two other mining companies in the province were issued with a pre-directive to shut down operations until they got water licences. The pre-directives are in line with the National Water Act.

The majority shareholder in Nkomati Anthracite, Sentula Mining Limited, told African Eye News Service (AENS) that open cast operations were halted in March this year, while underground operations were shut down in May.

“The open cast operations were suspended due to regulatory issues and the underground operations due to community assaults on employees and vandalism of mining property. The mine’s economics are marginal, with only the underground operations being conducted,” said Sentula chief executive Robin Berry on Wednesday.

Berry admitted that the company was operating without a water licence. “Sentula is aware that an application for an integrated water-use licence was submitted to the department of water affairs in 2008. We are working with the department of water affairs to approve the Nkomati Anthracite Mine’s integrated water-use licence.

“Approximately 150 people were employed and most have been retrenched. The intent is to reopen the mine as soon as regulatory and community issues are resolved. We anticipate this will happen within the next six months,” said Berry.

The spokesperson for the Mpumalanga economic development, environment and tourism department, Selvy Mohlala, also confirmed that Nkomati Anthracite had operated without a licence.

“Nkomati Anthracite mined without DMR (department of mineral resources) authorisation. No approval of the EMP (environmental management plan) was submitted to the department. DMR issued a directive to Nkomati to stop mining until approval was sought,” said Mohlala. “No water-use licence was obtained from water affairs and no environmental authorisation was issued by this department in terms of the NEMA (National Environment Management Act) for EIA (environmental impact assessment) listed activities.”

However, Mohlala said the department would not comment further because it had a direct interest in the mine through its parastatal, Mega. “The matter has to be referred to [water and environmental affairs] for possessing the application,” said Mohlala.

Mega spokesperson Keabetswe Tshukudu confirmed that Mega owned a 40% stake in the mine, but said Mega was not aware that the mine was operating without a water licence as the operational side of the mine had been contracted to Sentula.

Enock Khoza, the spokesperson for the community that lives in the area, told AENS that the mining had had a negative impact on the livelihood of residents. “I remember one incident in which the mine spilled poisonous water into the Nkomati River and killed so many cattle, fish and crocodiles. Indigenous trees were also destroyed after the company covered some of the lakes with soil,” said Khoza. — African Eye News Service

In the original version of this article, published in the Mail & Guardian on July 29 (Nkomati: State-owned mine shuts amid controversy) African Eye News Service (AENS) incorrectly reported that Shanduka owns Sentula. This is incorrect as the proposed transaction between Shanduka and Sentula did not happen as announced at the end of June this year. AENS regrets the error.

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Tshwarelo Mogakane
Tshwarelo Mogakane works from Bushbuckridge/Mbombela. A copy editor by day, an author/rapper/poet and tavern preacher by weekend, and of course a lover somewhere in between Tshwarelo Mogakane has over 51 followers on Twitter.

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