Guilty coal mine pays up

A Mpumalanga farmer has triumphed over a coal mine in a precedent setting case. The court victory was seen as a warning to mines who don’t comply with the National Environmental Management Act (Nema).

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Anker Coal and Mineral Holdings have been ordered to pay a fine of R224 000, of which R144 000 is allocated to farmer Dr Colin Forbes and R80 000 to the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency. An additional three fines of R180 000 have been suspended for five years. The mining company pleaded guilty in the Ermelo regional court to contravening Nema, the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act and the National Water Act.

The matter related to coal prospecting on Dr Forbes’ farm near Amsterdam in 2009. Anker Coal was found guilty of drilling a borehole within 10m of the banks of the Usutu River; failing to fill and cap boreholes properly; drilling in a wetland; leaving core drillings in the veld and failing to comply with a notice issued by the regional manager for the Department of Mineral Resources to rectify and rehabilitate the area.

Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, said, “The plea and sentence were a victory for the protection of our wetlands and other water resources for present and future generations.” Environmentalists felt that the fines weren’t heavy enough to deter mining companies from prospecting and mining irresponsibly.

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But Forbes said that the victory was more important than the size of the fine. He added that it was a twofold win. “Mines will think twice about breaking the law in future and farmers will realise that they have rights and are not powerless against the mines.”