environment sustainability

Mpumalanga Crisis: why is nobody listening?

OPINION: A desperate battle is raging across vast tracts of Mpumalanga between coal mining on the one hand and water preservation, food security and tourism on the other, writes Tracey Davies of the Centre for Environmental Rights.

For at least the last five years scientists, academics, conservation organisations, tourism authorities and NGOs have been issuing dire warnings about the largely unregulated rampant spread of coal mining in Mpumalanga, and the devastating impacts that this is having on South Africa’s food and water security. Year after year, the problem gets worse. More reports are issued. Nothing changes. Why is nobody listening?

In November 2011, WWF-SA released its Coal and Water Futures in South Africa report, detailing the rapid degradation of the critical Olifants river catchment as a result of coal mining. WWF warned that prospecting and mining rights for coal were “being issued in some of our most precious and sensitive catchments”, and that “no government department is currently assessing the predictable cumulative impacts of mining in sensitive areas”. The report listed a series of actions necessary to stem the tide of destruction, not one of which has been implemented.

In October 2012, the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy released a pilot study on the impact of coal mining on agriculture. 46% of South Africa’s total high potential arable soils are found in Mpumalanga, and the study found that “at the current rate of coal mining … approximately 12% of South Africa’s total high potential arable land will be transformed”. A further 14% of that arable land was subject to coal prospecting applications. The study assessed the impacts of this transformation, ranging from the loss of maize production and resulting price increases to the loss of employment, soil degradation, water and air pollution and health impacts. It concluded that “the effects of coal mining on agriculture are immense and some effects are irreversible.”

Open cast coal mine in Mpumalanga. Photo by Tracey Davies.

Open cast coal mine in Mpumalanga. Photo by Tracey Davies.

In August 2014 the Bench Marks Foundation released its Policy Gap 9 on South African coal mining. This report contains an exhaustive analysis of the problems created by the extraordinary concentration of coal mines in Mpumalanga: the awful living conditions of mine-affected communities and the lamentable failure of mining companies to meaningfully or positively engage with them; the devastating impact of coal mining on previously arable land; the impact of air, water and soil pollution on farming activities and human health; mining companies’ poor compliance with legal and regulatory requirements for environmental protection; the almost total lack of compliance monitoring and enforcement by the Department of Mineral Resources; and the “extremely cavalier attitude [of the South African mining industry] towards the closure of mines and the rehabilitation of the environment.”

These reports contain terrifying statistics and dire warnings about the consequences of doing nothing to stop this impending crisis. But very few people seem to be listening, and even fewer seem to care. But what happens in Mpumalanga will have consequences far beyond the boundaries of just this province. And the same patterns are being repeated elsewhere, in particular at the moment across vast areas of Limpopo. Unless we want the dominant South African landscape to resemble the coal-blackened environs of Emalahleni in decades to come, something needs to change.

Mpumalanga Tourism & Parks Agency Land Use Applications. Taking into account overlaps, mining and prospecting rights and rights applications cover 61% of Mpumalanga’s land area.

Recently I was privileged to be taken on a flyover of central Mpumalanga by Bateleurs pilot Karl Jensen. The two-hour flight covered the area boundaried by Kriel, Hendrina and Carolina to the south, and Belfast, Middelburg and Emalahleni to the North. As a mining-focussed environmental lawyer I thought I had a fairly good grasp of the situation in Mpumalanga. But I was flabbergasted at the extent to which coal mining has transformed vast swathes of the landscape.

The scale of the devastation is staggering. For almost the entire duration of the flight, we flew over a coal mine every couple of minutes, each a vast acreage of mutilation: enormous pits gouged out of the earth, acre upon acre of topsoil and overburden piled into lifeless mounds, streams and rivers diverted, and poisonous water pooling at the bottom of abandoned pits.

All coal mining licences contain conditions requiring so-called “concurrent rehabilitation” – it is crystal clear from the air that this is not happening. Also evident from the air is the army of coal trucks that crawl across the province, kicking clouds of black dust into the air. Another impact of coal mining here is the huge number of road accidents involving coal transportation trucks, leading Eskom in October last year to ban the trucking of coal in Mpumalanga over weekends.

Coal mining will never be clean. Nor will coal-fired power stations (there are 12 of them within an hour’s drive or less of Emalahleni). Both are a necessary evil in South Africa for the time being. But there are ways to regulate coal mining to prevent it from causing such extensive, widespread and irreversible damage to our fresh water resources, most precious arable land and critical biodiversity areas. At the moment, the kind of coordinated government action that is needed to achieve this is completely absent.

Unrehabilitated coal pit. Photo by Tracey Davies.

Despite a constitutionally mandated principle of cooperative governance, the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) reigns supreme in Mpumalanga, granting prospecting and mining rights even in the face of vehement opposition from other organs of state like conservation and tourism authorities. In South Africa’s bizarre mining-environment regulatory regime, the DMR is also responsible for policing the environmental impacts of mining. It is failing dismally at this task. The Departments of Environmental and Water Affairs, and local and district municipalities, which all have an integral role to play in regulation that effectively balances the province’s different priorities, are either unwilling or incapable of making a dent in this onslaught.

The Minister of Mineral Resources has the power to declare “no go” areas for mining, but has so far refused to do so. Countless organisations have called on government, time and again, to undertake an assessment of the cumulative impacts of mining on water resources, arable farmland and tourism potential, and that relevant government departments agree to restrict mining in areas which contain critical water sources and biodiversity, or which are important for South Africa’s future food security. Nothing happens.

The rapid spread of coal mining and its associated environmental and social impacts is dramatically altering the economy of the province. Those who object to a prospecting or mining right application in this region are often accused by the DMR of wanting to “sterilise” minerals, with the associated implication that those who care about protecting our environment do not care about jobs or growth. The silliness of this aside, there is a different kind of sterilisation going on in Mpumalanga. Huge areas of land which have for generations created stable, long-term jobs in farming are being permanently sterilised. Even with the best post-coal mining rehabilitation (a rare occurrence in South Africa), land that has supported coal mining operations cannot ever again be used to grow crops.

Tourism potential is also being “sterilised” by the onslaught of coal mining. The Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks agency (an organ of state) spends a ridiculous chunk of its time and (our) resources objecting to mining and prospecting rights in areas important for their biodiversity, water resource and tourism value – objections which the Department of Mineral Resources inevitably ignores. Private tourism projects are a risky business; anyone can apply to prospect or mine on your property, and if the spectre of coal mining on your land or that of your neighbour looms ever large, why invest in the future?

Coal mining companies predictably argue that they are better job creators than agriculture and tourism, but even the biggest mines employ surprisingly few people full-time. Many of the new coal mining projects are short-term, with life-of-mine projections of between three and five years, and maximum employee numbers of less than 100 people.

South Africans have been browbeaten into an unquestioning acceptance of the untouchability of the mining industry. Those who attempt to challenge or raise questions about any aspect of the way that mining takes place in this country are either ignored or accused of being “anti-growth”, “anti-jobs” or just generally not smart enough to understand the economics. Until more of us start to question this dominance, and the sacrifices we are making because of it, and to insist on better planning of mining, better protection of the scarce resources that mining permanently destroys, and better compliance monitoring and enforcement by the Department of Mineral Resources, mining companies will continue to ride roughshod over our future, and mining will continue to trump our rights to clean water, food and an environment not harmful to our health and well-being.

source: Groundup

environment sustainability

Death of King Justice Mpondombini Sigcau

King Justice Mpondombini Sigcau of the amaMpondo passed away at Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in Mthatha after suffering a stroke. He had served as the amaMpondo king from December 1978. President Zuma stated: “This is indeed a great loss to South Africa. The king was a great and admired leader, who worked tirelessly for his people, building traditional institutions and preserving the Mpondo heritage.”

Sigcau was known for taking a stand against the mining of the Wild Coast, saying that it would destroy endangered species for the short-term commercial profit of greedy foreigners. He is survived by his wife, Queen Lombekiso Masobhuza Sigcau and two daughters, Princess Wezizwe and Princess Bekiwe, and grandson, Prince Juba Zulu. Let’s hope his successor is equally protective of the Wild Coast.


King Justice Mpondombini Sigcau




environment sustainability

Save Our Sands Mtunzini – a letter from Bruce Hopwood


Save Our Sands (SOS) Mtunzini

SOS (Save Our Sands) Mtunzini the joint campaign of the Mtunzini Conservancy to address the proposed sand dune mining to the North and the South of Mtunzini. The Mtunzini Conservancy (Reg. No. 2007/006455/08) is a NPC with Section 18A tax status and can issue tax certificates for donations made.

Dear Friends of Zululand and the environment,

As a resident who was born here, grew up and educated here and who has resided here for the past 27 years I’m filled with a sense of loss at the general prospect of large areas north and south of Mtunzini being turned into a mining wasteland.  As a child I witnessed one far-sighted individual’s lonely battle to enlighten a village and its neighbouring farmers on man’s impact on the environment and the need to take care of it. As an adult I have seen this vision and hard work brought to fruition with an entire community’s commitment to conservation as well as its total delight in its rich natural heritage right on its front doorstep.

The Jewel of the Zululand coast

From as far back as my memory serves, Mtunzini has always prided itself on the basis of its natural attractions which make it an unspoilt and safe environment with pristine coastal dune forest, lagoon, mangrove swamps and kilometres of undisturbed beach – ‘the jewel of the Zululand coast’ as the postcards of the 1960s described it. Today our brochures and our tourism websites still use the same language to market this gem.

At the time of the millennium there were 10 accommodation establishments and four catering establishments in Mtunzini. In the past 14 years this has more than doubled to more than 20 accommodation establishments ranging from quality B&Bs, hotel, lodges and self-catering facilities as well as at least eight good restaurants.

Tronox would have us believe that ecotourism and mining need not be mutually exclusive and it has even made a vague proposal to offer ‘mine tours’. As part of its application for development rights in terms of the requirements of the KZN Planning and Development Act of 2008, Tronox has commissioned Durban academic Dr Jeff McCarthy’s report: ‘The Possible Impacts of Dune Mining on the Mtunzini Town Character’.

Despite claims that he spent ‘three months of research into the specifics of Mtunzini and its regional context’, Dr McCarthy fails dismally in capturing the town’s character and only contributes the occasional  banal observation about the type of cars parked outside Spar at midday (‘mainly older lower cost’) and despairs at the absence of a Protea hotel. With this limited world view of how a village on the seaside close to the N2 should behave, he then wastes no time in pontificating on the reasons for this ‘arrested development’ when towns under similar circumstances have boomed. As an example, Dr McCarthy chooses Mtubatuba – an unfortunate comparison if there ever was one.

Instead he takes self-conceited delight in trying to paint a picture of Mtunzini as a kind of ‘Orania-by-the-sea’ for greenies. It’s a tired joke. As a community we’ve been having the discussion amongst ourselves for years – with a lot more depth and humour, I may add.

In an attempt to give some sorely needed gravitas to his unconvincing conclusions, Dr McCarthy has very thoughtfully added 21 pages of CV.

Living close to nature in a pristine environment

If Dr McCarthy had made the slightest attempt to try to understand ‘the character of Mtunzini’ he may have discovered that there are people in the world who actually do not want to live in a Ballito or an Amanzimtoti or stay in a Protea hotel, that there are people who choose to live close to a pristine environment and that the matter of searching for a balance between a good quality of life with the least impact on the environment is important to some people.

The residents of Mtunzini deserved something a little more thoughtful than Dr McCarthy’s poorly researched hatchet job.

He describes other towns in the world where mining has taken place – Australia, France, Pilgrims Rest – which have survived mining to become successful urban centres. These brief investigations are supposed to hold ‘principal lessons’ for the Mtunzini context. However, even the most cursory checking of these mining towns reveals that all went into decline once the mining rush was over and most became ‘ghost towns’ until they were rediscovered years later and the nostalgia travel industry kicked in.

Everyone knows that today’s popularity of Pilgrims Rest is based entirely on the fact that following the boom the town went into complete decline and that the tin and iron village of the gold rush days remained virtually intact until the 1970s when everyone wanted to do the ‘time-warp’ thing again.

The one success story of Australia of which I have a little experience is Ballarat, about 120kms outside Melbourne. This area experienced an enormous gold rush in the 1850s which was sustained for about 50 years but then rapidly faded and declined with the slowing of gold extraction. The town suffered seven decades of little development until its Victorian architectural heritage was recognised and 25 hectares of the town became a successful functioning historical theme park. Sadly its twin town in the United States has never enjoyed a similar catharsis. Ballarat in California experienced a similar gold rush followed by a similar decline. It gained notoriety briefly in the 1960s when the ‘Manson family’ of killers moved in but today it only boasts two residents and a couple of passing tumbleweeds.

Mining villages become Ghost towns

In fact, a little searching on the Internet – using ‘mining village’ and ‘ghost towns’ as keywords – often produces the same results. Google appears to recognise them as synonyms.

The ‘Principal Lesson’ here seems to indicate that mining is not sustainable, that some people make a quick buck and move on and that whoever stays behind can expect a devastated landscape and a declining economy with little money for home improvements.

Mtunzini – one of seven most underrated spots in South Africa

In my work with the uMlalazi Tourism Association I have spent much time on creating media awareness about our region by inviting members of the Press to visit and I’m always struck by their surprise at finding such a beautiful unspoilt location on the KwaZulu-Natal coast. It is unique and that should be celebrated and cared for. In the past year, we have enjoyed media coverage from an enormous range of national media – including Country Life, Wild magazine, Wildside magazine, Sunday Times Travel Weekly, Sunday Tribune, the Mercury, The Witness, Go!/Weg!, Getaway, Pasella (on TV) and even Mens’ Health which included Mtunzini in its ‘seven most underrated spots in South Africa’ article in the November 2012 issue.

All articles have had the highest praise for the region. The most recent Press report by respected journalist Myrtle Ryan opened with: ‘Mtunzini is still one of the prettiest towns in KwaZulu-Natal. Huge trees shade the winding roads, vegetation flourishes and the locals are helpful’ (Saturday Star 22 December 2012)

Not many towns get compliments like that. Can you imagine what they will write if Tronox starts to mine the 12-km strip along the N2 entrance to Mtunzini with bare red earth on the seaside and enormous slimes dams on the inland side. They will write: ‘Mtunzini used to be one of the most beautiful towns until Tronox moved in and wrecked one of the last unspoilt environments along the KwaZulu-Natal coast’. Or, ‘Mtunzini used to be the gem of the Zululand coast until Tronox mined it’.

I certainly hope I’m not around to try and market that if mining ever happens.

Outside the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife reserves, uMlalazi Municipality is the one shining example of a tourism success story in Zululand. Our local tourism association (the UTA) leads the way in marketing, developing regional products and ensuring that tourism is a sustainable industry in the region. Not even a city like Richards Bay comes anywhere near producing what we have achieved and I hope the Municipality is proud of the UTA’s achievements and takes cognisance of this when it has to make a decision on either allowing or forbidding mining 100m from Siyaya Street.

The Mtunzini I know is not one of ‘arrested development’, I have known it all my life and I have seen many changes and developments. I think it is a town which recognises its uniqueness, values it and wants to preserve it. It is not opposed to change, it only wants this to be ‘appropriate development’. Several generations have given of their time and money to make it what it is today, a dusty mine on its doorstep doesn’t seem like just deserts to me.

The Mtunzini Conservancy is doing an exceptional job in taking on Tronox’s bid to mine 100m from people’s homes and it has set an outstanding example to small communities around the country that they do not have to be bullied by faceless international corporations driven by profit and greed. It’s difficult to appreciate the magnitude of this battle but the Conservancy has prepared its case thoroughly and convincingly by pooling whatever resources are at hand and seeking the best legal advice when need be. All this has come at great sacrifice to a small group of people who have given of their time and expertise in this mammoth task but more importantly, it would not have been possible without the incredible generosity of ordinary people with whom this battle has struck a deep personal chord. Your donations – large or small – will make a difference  and  I urge you to contribute to the SOS Campaign run by the Mtunzini Conservancy to preserve our environmental heritage.

Yours sincerely,
Concerned Resident of Mtunzini

Mtunzini Conservancy Web sites for further information


Mtunzini Conservancy

SOS Mtunzini

SOS Mtunzini request for your continued support – make a donation now

Simply put, if it wasn’t for your valuable support we would not be able to continue. So thank you all once again for your generous contributions to and support for the SOS Mtunzini campaign against mineral sand mining on the east coast of KZN. We hope that you will be able to continue supporting us through this process by making donations of R250, R500, or R1000.

SOS Mtunzini (Save Our Sands) is the joint campaign of the MRA (Mtunzini Residents Association) and the Mtunzini Conservancy to address the proposed sand dune mining to the North and the South of Mtunzini. The Mtunzini Conservancy (Reg. No. 2007/006455/08) is a Section 21 company. The Mtunzini Conservancy has Section 18A tax status and can issue tax certificates for donations made.

Please make your donations to:

The Mtunzini Conservancy at any branch of First National Bank

or via the internet to:

First National Bank
Sort Code: 220130
Account number: 62093027475

Please use your business name or surname and initials as a reference and fax to + 27 86 512 6476 or email to the following information:

  1. Proof of payment
  2. your full name
  3. postal address
  4. E Mail address and your telephone number

For donations from outside South Africa, the details for the bank and bank account are as follows:

First National Bank
Empangeni Branch
PO Box 13, Empangeni 3880
KwaZulu Natal
South Africa
Sort Code: 220130
Account number: 620 930 274 75

If you have any problems, you can contact the Operations Manager at First National Bank, Empangeni:

Mrs Reeva Cornelius
Telephone: +27 35 772 6763
Fax number: +27 35 7922591

The Mtunzini Conservancy (Reg. No. 2007/006455/08) is a Section 21 company (Non Profit Organisation).

The Mtunzini Conservancy has Section 18A tax status and can issue tax certificates for donations made. Our auditors are:

Hills Howard & Associates (Pty) Ltd.
PO Box 585 Empangeni 3880
Tel: +27 35 772 6611

Thank you for supporting SOS Mtunzini.


environment sustainability

SHEC stakeholder meeting of Tronox KZN Sands – Mtunzini

This will be of particular interest to those concerned about the proposed mining at Mtunzini

You are reminded and cordially invited to the SHEC (Safety, Health, Environment and Community) Umbrella stakeholder meeting taking place tomorrow on Wednesday, 3rd October. At this meeting Tronox gives feedback on their performance in the SHEC areas for the first six months of the year.

All interested/affected parties are welcome to attend this meeting.

Detail of meeting: 

3rd October 2012, 10:00am

Central Processing site (CPC) just outside Empangeni, R 34 Melomth rd; Otto room. (You will have to take the second turn-off of Tronox, northern entrance)

Annalien Fouche

Contact detail:

Office: 035 902 7806
Cell: 083 304 1070

environment sustainability

TAKE ACTION NOW: Fairbreeze mine set to leave a disastrous legacy

By Andrew Verster, CEO, Wildlands Conservation Trust 

Last week I received notification that the EXXARO Sands – now Tronox KZN Sands – Fairbreeze mining application has received Environmental Authorization. This Authorization will now be subject to significant legal interrogation through the appeals process, by many concerned citizens and organisations. The reason for this interrogation is that this mine will change the landscape and economy of the greater Mtunzini area forever. At the moment this is an area characterised by extensive sugarcane and timber plantations and ecotourism activities. It is a scenic landscape and contrasts sharply with the landscape around Richards Bay. Richards Bay was formed through the destruction of one of the world’s largest and most diverse wetland and estuarine systems. Had the Harbour not been developed, the unbelievably beautiful and diverse wetland, dune and estuarine systems would today be part of the Isimangaliso World Heritage area, and would have been South Africa’s Okavanga Swamps or Pantanal.

Digital artist's impression of potential damage
Digital artist’s impression of potential damage

The Fairbreeze mine impacts will be very visible in the short to medium term. The mine itself will be a huge opencast mining pit, right next to the highway and bordering on the edge of Mtunzini town and the Siyaya Coastal Reserve. It will be supported by new roads, pipelines and powerlines. It really doesn’t matter what mitigation efforts are put in place by KZN Tronox Sands. There is simply no way to hide this operation and the associated noise, dust and health impacts will change Mtunzini from being an agricultural and eco-tourism based town to being a noisy, dusty mining town.

In addition, to these medium term impacts the Fairbreeze mine will leave behind two massive “residue storage facilities”. These will also be highly visible. The one facility will cover an area of 166ha and the other 373ha, and will effectively be mountains of fine clay particulate. The larger facility will be 12 stories high, 5 km long and 1 km wide! The Environmental Authorization makes very little mention of these facilities and their long term care and management. It does say that “the accepted EMPR (Environmental Management Programme) will adequately mitigate negative impacts that may arise during construction and operational phase of the Fairbreeze mine project”. What about the post-operational phase, especially given that KZN Tronox Sands’ Trevor Aryan has publicly admitted that they are not sure how they will facilitate the restoration of these two facilities?

If you’re also worried about the Fairbreeze mine and the real legacy which it will leave us then I encourage you to visit the ACER website to access the application and authorisation ( and then send your concerns in writing to the KZN MEC of the Department of Environmental Affairs by the 31st July 2012 (!) – Private Bag X9059, Pietermaritzburg, 3200 or to If we don’t stand up and voice our concerns then we can’t sit back and complain if a disaster unfolds.

source: Andrew Verster