Dispute between coal miner and conservation coalition

A war of words has erupted between Coal of Africa Limited (CoAL) and the Save Mapungubwe Coalition (SMC) that had previously jointly signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU)…

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that aimed to ensure that operations at CoAL’s Vele Colliery did not threaten the environmental integrity of Limpopo’s Mapungubwe Cultural Heritage Site. The SMC recently announced its withdrawal from the MoU and to cease negotiations towards a Memorandum of Agreement with CoAL, citing CoAL’s alleged past and on-going non-compliance with water legislation requirements at Vele Colliery as a reason.

The SMC elaborated that, based on its own research carried out since the MoU was signed with CoAL in late November 2011, it had discovered that when CoAL commenced mining at Vele the mining company allegedly did not have all the authorisations required for certain water use activities related to its mining operations and still did not have these authorisations.

“Although this is disputed by CoAL, the Department of Water Affairs has advised the Coalition that Limpopo Coal [a CoAL subsidiary] had been instructed to apply for such authorisations by the DWA, but had failed to do so. CoAL did not disclose this to the Coalition prior or during negotiations,” said a SMC statement. “Furthermore, it also appears that, since the water use license was granted, there has been non-compliance at Vele in respect of which the DWA issued a non-compliance letter to CoAL in June 2012.”

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CoAL immediately responded with a statement indicating that the mining company felt that the basis on which the Coalition had withdrawn from the MoU, and the SMC’s allegations against CoAL, were inaccurate. The mining company said that it had, on numerous occasions, addressed the SMC’s concerns to the Coalition.

“In addition, the Coalition has to date not been to the Vele mine site in spite of the numerous invitations from the company for it to visit in order to observe and appreciate the systems introduced to manage the environment,” said CoAL’s CEO, John Wallington. “The mine is regularly audited by environmental authorities and to date has not received negative feedback on environmental compliance.”

CoAL also reiterated that Vele Colliery had valid regulatory licenses and permits, including the Integrated Water Use Licence, for all of its activities and that production at the mine would continue as planned. 

Meanwhile, the SMC urged the government, especially the Presidency and the National Planning Commission, “to facilitate a focussed, strategic and inclusive planning discussion regarding future mining developments in South Africa and especially regarding possible future mining developments in the Waterberg Area, which has been identified as a key action by the NPC in its latest Development Plan: Vision 2030”.

The SMC consisted of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, BirdLife SA, the Wilderness Foundation SA, the World Wide Fund for Nature SA, the Association of Southern African Professional Archaeologists, and the Mapungubwe Action Group.