Farmers surrounding Coal of Africa Ltd’s proposed Vele Colliery in Limpopo are unhappy that the suspension of the mine’s water use licence has been repealed. The mine is set to start operations early next year.
“No matter what the mining companies tell us, we know that any coal mine poses a huge risk to the environment,” said Stephen Hoffman of the Soutpansberg District Agricultural Union. “There is no way a mining operation can prevent all water and acid drainage leaks, and keep the coal dust down.
“When Vele closes down in 30 years, we’re going to have to deal with the mess left behind.” Hoffman added that agriculture in the northern part of Limpopo provided more jobs than a colliery would, and that in the long run local communities would benefit more from a productive farming sector.
Farmers also fear the colliery would pollute irrigation water, make it unusable, or even deplete it. Meanwhile, environmentalists have suggested that minister of water and environmental affairs Edna Molewa broke the law in lifting the suspension of the water use licence. The suspension was in place pending a Water Tribunal review, triggered by concerns raised by the northern Limpopo farming community and other interested parties.
Carin Bosman, an independent environmental consultant who is advising a coalition of non-government organisations opposed to the proposed colliery, said the law required the minister to explain why she had originally issued the water use licence and why she’d lifted the suspension.
Molewa’s spokesperson, Linda Page, said that while the Water Tribunal is still considering the matter, the Ministry of Water and Environmental Affairs could not go into details. “Water licences are issued normally because the applicant has complied with all the criteria stipulated in the National Water Act,” Page explained. “We will answer for ourselves when the Water Tribunal calls on us to do so.” – Lloyd Phillips