Mining in Nyl River flood plain threatens agricultural survival

Proposed mining by Sylvania Resources in the Nyl River flood plain has landowners up in arms over the possible destruction of the sensitive ecosystem.

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The flood plain in question is in the Waterberg district of Limpopo, and supports numerous farms and communities, which rely solely on the Nyl River for water. This amounts to about 35 000 people. If mining were to continue, the whole river system will be affected as the company has indicated it will have to extract 12 000m² of water a day during the estimated 20-year lifetime of the mine.

The flood plain is the biggest of its kind in South Africa and covers 17 000ha. The area that will be mined is a mere 40km from a conservation area covered by the Ramsar convention, which protects wetlands across the world. Sylvania Resources has completed prospecting on three farms in the flood plain.

It is now conducting the environmental impact assessment (EIA), which is required when applying for a mining licence. Hilary Knight, from the Nyl Action Group, said that she can’t believe that any mining company would tackle the obstacle of trying to mine in the 50-year flood line of SA’s only remaining grassland wetland system. “I am appalled that authorities are allowing it to go this far, considering where the mine is proposed to be situated.

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“Some places are sacred and shouldn’t be mined.” Emile Honiball, a legal representative for the Nyl Action Group, said that agriculture contributes 4% of Waterberg’s economic output, which would be jeopardised if mining is to continue. “According to law, no structures can be erected in the 1:100-year flood line of the river, but the mine has already done so,” he said. “I’m not sure how they are going to get around this legally.”

Honiball added that it was difficult to label the mining activities as legal or not because it is not a “clear-cut issue”.  “The Constitution says that we have a right to clean water, but this is not always the case.” Meanwhile, Sylvania Resources has indicated it is aware of the sensitivity of the area, but will continue with its plans regardless. Honiball said that the mine is downplaying the effect that it will have on the area. “It is much bigger than they want us to believe,” he explained. “I don’t even think that all the farmers understand just how much they will be affected.”