New transparency in mining sector

The newly appointed Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) task team has been given six weeks to assess technologies, challenges and costs of “critical short term interventions,” announced environmental affairs minister Buyelwa Sonjica.

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This is the latest in a series of pro-environmental and, some say, “pro-transparency” actions by Sonjica and mineral resources minister Susan Shabangu in the past month. At the same time, a great deal of critical attention has focused on the awarding of mining rights in South Africa, as well as other pollution problems.

On 17 August, Shabangu declared a six-month moratorium on all prospecting rights applications, effective from 1 September. She also said a full review of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) would be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2011.

The review is intended to clarify ambiguous legislation in the Act, and is expected to deal with the clauses of the MPRDA Amendment Act that was intended to give water affairs far greater power in awarding mineral rights. Currently, a miner can begin mining before a water license has been awarded – a situation widely considered to be illogical.

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”Transparency and consistency will be the hallmark in the management of South Africa’s mineral resources,” said Shabangu, who followed the implementation of the moratorium by publishing 39 498 pages on their website ( showing who submitted mining and prospecting rights applications and their status. It’s a resource Agri SA’s Nick Opperman said is good for agriculture as farmers would be able to learn of rights applications on their farms “before the machines arrive to mine”.

Earlier in the year, Sonjica published a list of 125 functioning mines that had not yet received water licenses, including several working mines that hadn’t even applied for a licence. She also disclosed that 22 directives had been issued against several mines in terms of the National Water Act.Shabangu has been less open about mines that have deviated from her department’s environmental management plans.

In August she refused to divulge the names and the locations of such mines, claiming the information could affect the share price of the companies involved, a justification for which DA MP Gareth Morgan said there was “no rationale”.

”I’ve submitted a request for this information in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act, but haven’t heard anything yet,” he added.Opposition politicians, environmentalists and farmers’ organisations have nevertheless applauded both ministers for their efforts to promote transparency and curb poorly regulated mining activity. Most encouraging of all, in Morgan’s opinion, is the fact that the ministers, who are frequently at odds with one another, have been discussing mining in sensitive areas.

”Sonjica has commissioned various environmental management frameworks (EMFs) for areas where mining constitutes one of the development pressures. They cover massive geographical areas and determine the appropriate development for that area,” he noted. “The EMFs aren’t vested with any legislative power to prevent a mining licence, but I think these will be taken into account when deciding whether to grant a license or not.”