Originally published by The Mercury on 24/11/15.
A major public outcry over coal mining next to Africa’s oldest game reserve and wilderness area has forced a local mining group back to the drawing board to consider its alternatives.
Two years ago, the Johannesburg-based Ibutho Coal group announced its ambition to blast coal from the ground less than 100m from the southern boundary of the Imfolozi game reserve and wilderness area in KwaZulu-Natal.
The game reserve dates from 1895, and was established to protect the world’s last remnant population of the southern white rhino. In 1959, largely because of the determination of the late Ian Player, the southern part of the reserve was set aside as a “wilderness area”, largely offlimits to human disruption, roads or permanent tourist camps.
Ibutho, however, hopes to mine and export anthracite coal via the nearby Richards Bay coal terminal and applied for mining rights in August 2103.
Forced to leave
During the mandatory environmental impact assessment, it also emerged that several hundred people living on the boundaries of the reserve would be forced to leave their homes. This was because dozens of homes lay directly in the mining path or because they would be affected by flying rocks, dust, noise and other mining impacts.
Ibutho’s environmental consultants have announced that after “due consideration” of public reaction, the company has decided to suspend the EIA process for the time being and to identify various options to address the concerns and complaints from a large variety of interest groups.
The new “action plan” was expected to include further consultation with affected communities, including the residents of the Ocilwane and Ntuthunga villages.
It would also include “additional studies” and a “revisiting” of the original mining plan to reduce the zone of influence of opencast coal mining.
“You will be notified of Ibutho Coal’s decision in this regard once the plan of action has been formulated. As a result of the additional work planned for the project, no immediate engagement sessions will be scheduled, apart from ongoing community consultation,” Ibutho consultant Lizinda Dickson said last week.
Kirsten Youens, an environmental attorney for the Global Environmental Trust, has hailed the latest development as “a significant victory”.
“It means there will be a long delay and almost certainly (if there is a change in the mining area) the need to go back to scoping phase.”
The Save Our Imfolozi and Communities Campaign, the main umbrella group spearheading campaigns against the mining, has not commented yet on the latest developments.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, which is in charge of the reserve and wilderness area, repeated its strong opposition to the proximity of the proposed mine to the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in a statement last month.
It said that it would be a “travesty” if the mining plan was approved.
Its major concerns included noise, vibrations, dust, water and light pollution that would affect tourism and cause “devastation”.