MAC: Mines and Communities

CoAL faces community wrath over water

Published by MAC on 2011-11-21
Source: Statement, Australia Business Journal

Just as concerned citizens of South Africa mobilise around this month's international Climate Conference in Durban (COP-17), several communities, supported by NGOs, are battling to save a critical part of Limpopo province from the threat of coal mining.

Coal of Africa Ltd (CoAL), listed in London, Johannesburg and on Australia's stock exchange, wants to construct a colliery in a drought-stricken area where communities and other farmers fear their livelihoods will be sacrificed to the "black stuff".

The company has already obtained permission to access invaluable water resources for another mine (Vele) - despite accusations that it broke an article within the National Water Act as well as one within the National Environmental Management Act.

Open letter to the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs

Enquiries: Mr Moses Mudau
The Hon Edna Molewa, MP
Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs
Private Bag X 313

30 October 2011

Dear The Hon Minister Edna Molewa

The following organisations:

Dzomo la Mupo
Mupo Foundation
Mudzi wa Vhurereli ha Vhavenda
Ndima Community Services
Thikho ya Mvelele
Vhembe Traditional Healers Forum
Cultural Biodiversity Group
Vhufa ha Vhangona
Vhembe Traditional Healers Practitioners
Vhangona National Cultural Movement
Soutpansberg District Agricultural Union

whose signatures are appended to this letter, had representatives attending the Coal Of Africa Information Sharing Open Day at Forever Resort Tshipise on the 30th of September 2011, here in the Vhembe District of the Limpopo Province.

At this meeting Coal of Africa shared information on their prospective mining activities already on the go. We were also given information on the environmental impact assessment process and how Coal of Africa will deal with the necessary remedial processes.

The most important issue that the participants were and are concerned about is the water that the Coal mining needs in order to extract the coal from the ground. We were also informed that they had made an application to your department for a license to use the available water for mining.

Looking at the information given at that meeting, a lot of water is needed. Water from the ground, rain water and surface water, which includes water from existing dams like the Nzhelele Dam, Vondo Dam and Nandoni Dam, including the Vhembe/Limpopo River.

At this point in time the Coal of Africa is engaging present title holders in the affected farms around Mudimeli area to solicit their agreement on water licensing. Regarding the Vondo and Nandoni Dams, there has not been consultation with the communities who use the water from those dams and there is no permission or agreement with the community stakeholders.

Coal of Africa documentation says that the Musekwa community has granted permission to the Coal of Africa Company to mine in the area through a consultation and ancestral ceremony conducted by Naledi Development. They call this process "Heritage Assessment Process".

The organisations concerned, as signatories to this letter, are against the method of singling out individual communities in negotiating or soliciting agreements on a major process that will affect not only the Musekwa or Mudimeli communities alone, but the whole of Vhembe District, the whole of South Africa, Africa and the world at large due to climate change.

No Vhomakhadzi alone has the sole right to communicate with the ancestors on behalf of Vhembe communities on a process that will bring irreparable damages to the area that the mining is going to affect.

The Vhamusanda and few Tribal Authorities CoAL says attended their ceremony and subsequent meeting at which some Vhamusanda is said to have reported his answers from the ancestors, also do not have the authority to take a decision to grant Coal of Africa permission to go ahead with mining, with grave consequences as mentioned above, especially the usage of water, a scarce resource as we speak.

Presently communities are battling on a daily basis to get water for household purpose, farmers in the area need water for agricultural purposes as well.

If a licence were to be granted to Coal of Africa now, we will face an unforeseen damage to the ground water through contaminated water seepage back into the water table.

Fountains will go dry, rivers will run dry, plants, animals and human beings alike will die. The environmental damage will be extreme because of adverse impact on the eco-system and the good health of everyone living in it. Please be informed that water is already a depleting precious resource in the area where the mining is going to take place.

The place is one of the hottest areas in the Limpopo Province, but nonetheless a source of good health through indigenous fauna and flora over millennia of civilization in the area.

The further depletion of ground water will adversely affect the whole of the Soutpansberg water source which will affect the whole of the Vhembe region. Coal of Africa indicated that water could also be sourced from the Vhembe/Limpopo River. Already the Vele mine is right on top of the Vhembe/Limpopo River extracting water from it, De Beers Venetia Diamond mine is doing the same.

We understand that there are further prospects of mining under survey. Therefore, the scarce water resource of the Limpopo River is already under increasing stress. Makhado Colliery will not come up with miracles to save water for future use.

Organisations who have interest and are affected parties in this mining process humbly request your good self not to grant water licence permit to Coal of Africa for its Makhado Colliery.

We would also like you to reverse the permission already given for the Vele mining and the De Beers Venetia diamond mine in order to stem the irreparable damages that will be done to the water sources and natural environment: our common heritage.

It might seem inappropriate or we might be seen as latecomers in the process of objecting. We were only made aware of the consultation process on coal mining through the launch of the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve at Makhado on the 18th of August. Subsequently they invited us to a meeting they held with Coal of Africa at Mountain View hotel on the 30th of August, at which we were informed of the Open Day Meeting at Tshipise. Nonetheless, we trust we are in good time to object to the water licence they have just applied for recently.

We are also appealing to our politicians who we voted for to advise our minister of Water affairs on our plight. We are also appealing to the ministers of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and the minister of Forestry to strengthen our hand in opposing the foreseen devastation of the land, water and the entire environment of this area by coal mining.

In the near future South Africa is about to host the COP17, the first of its kind on African soil. It is a coincidence that the ministers mentioned above and the whole of the South African government should look into, so that we are not seen to be contradicting our stance on greening our planet by failing to get rid of processes such as mining coal as one of the serious culprits causing global warming and climate change. The area where coal is located is one of the hottest in Vhembe District, solar and wind energy would be more appropriate for energy purposes.

Recently, Minister you have allowed or granted permission to the Vele colliery to go ahead with using the water of the Limpopo River. This is indeed shocking to us. As mentioned above De Beers is extracting a huge amount of water, Coal of Africa is going to extract more water.

We have also recently learnt that the unique vegetation found on the Mapungubwe World Heritage site is showing signs of ailing due to the depletion of the ground water by the diamond mine. This should be of grave concern to you as the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs and all of us. The future of this planet depends on us.

We might be the last generation to save it. And the coming generation will look up to your office as the one that failed them.

We therefore humbly request and appeal to you as our Minister to hear our pleas not to grant the licence for water to Coal of Africa company for its coal mining in the area. We attended the IWULA Information Sharing Open Day on the 3rd of November 2011 at Forever Resort Tshipise.

The organisations mentioned above and land claimants who were not consulted about the mining made it clear to Coal of Africa Makhado Colliery Project Manager, Mr Eugene O'Brian, that the Vhembe communities including farmers in the area are not agreeing to let Coal of Africa use their water for mining, in other words we are opposing the granting of the Water licence.

It was also mentioned that we not only refuse consent to water usage but to the whole mining operations for the sake of saving our environment, the eco-system and our health against the problem of global warming. We understood as government you will receive a report on the meeting and we hope it will reflect the true statements made by the above mentioned participants.

Coal of Africa was also informed that they must go back to the Traditional Authorities they made agreements with and let them know that the ordinary citizens do not agree with them giving permission for mining without their consent.

We as citizens will suffer the consequences while the leaders could use the money from Coal of Africa to run away and stay in towns or cities, as some of them have done so already, away from the damages going to be caused by mining.

We hope and trust that your office in the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs will give this matter your utmost attention and due diligence and not grant the water licence for coal mining and any other mining damage in the future.

Yours sincerely,

Contact person: Moses Mudau

cc. Minister of Forestry; Minister of Tourism; Chief Whip of the Majority Party in the National Assembly; Minister of Health

CoAL directors could face Criminal Charges

Australia Business Journal

15 November 2001

Alleged environmental misdemeanours could lead to an Australian-listed miner facing criminal charges in South Africa.

The South African Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is considering whether to pursue criminal prosecutions against Coal of Africa after the country’s justice minister, Jeff Radebe, confirmed that a police docket had been forwarded from his department to the DPP.

The miner is claimed to have broken an article within the National Water Act as well as an article within the National Environmental Management Act.

In a statement, Coal of Africa spokesperson James Duncan said: “As has been widely publicised, Coal of Africa has made substantial progress — both in terms of its relationships with respective regulators and reparative/developmental measures at Vele — in recent months, all of which augur well for the future.

“In view of this, we don’t believe criminal charges are likely. If criminal charges were to be pursued however, Coal of Africa would defend these vigorously.”

The DPP is expected to make a final decision after police have completed their investigations into the case.

Coal mining plans jeopardise the cultural and ecological future of Venda

By Dylan McGarry & Christelle Terreblanche

Natal Witness

30 November 2011

"How can the leaves on the tree say 'we do not care for the roots´. How can they claim to be evergreen. Our elders are our roots, and we are the leaves. This is what we are seeing, the seeds are dying-why?- because we do not care for the roots. The younger generations they are the seeds, they have lost their connection to the elders, saying 'we can live our own life' I learned this from my father, he was an elder."

These are the words of Makaulule Mpatheleni the spokesperson for Dzomo La Mupo (The Mupo Foundation) who on November 15 alongside Moses Mudau  handed over a letter to the Deputy Minister of Water Affairs Rejoice Mabudafhasi, on behalf of a coalition of nine NGOs to call for a ban on the water licence application by Coal of Africa, an Australian mining company. The company is prospecting to mine for coal at the Vele  mining site at the edge of the Mapungubwe world heritage site. This would also necessitate the extraction of underground water from an area in Venda to feed the new Medupi power station in the area. The coal also happens to be below sites deemed sacred for the baVenda.

A day after publication of the official appeal, Moses since received word that the company would take legal action against Dzomo La Mupo over the appeal to government. The company dismissed as "spurious" the allegations when contacted for comment, but  admitted it would revert to legal avenues if attempts to bring the company into disrepute does not stop.

On Saturday 19th November in Louis Trichardt-Makhado, a round table exchange, guided by the Climate Train team, was conducted with the women of Dzomo La Mupo, who guard the ancient water springs, their elders and spokespersons of communities from far-flung areas such as Tshidzivhe, Vhutanda and Thsivhale. The group sincerely shared their concerns and pains regarding several burning challenges - ranging from the proposed mining in the area to the growing disconnection occurring between generations in their communities - and shared their requests to the decision makers at COP17. A global report last week also pointed out that the Limpopo Valley is among the most climate vulnerable sites in the world, and the group is facing diminishing water supplies at a time when the coal mines are expected to use vast quantities of water amidst fears that the extraction process could also contaminate ground water.

The vision of Dzomo La Mupo (vhaVenda for Voice of Nature or Universe) is to revive the indigenous values of Mother Earth and to protect their sacred sites, traditions and way of life from extractive and unsustainable industrial development. A primary focus for the foundation is to heal the ailing trans-generational knowledge pathways in their community, which are rapidly being eroded from the effects of globalisation and urbanisation.

Mphatheleni says: "At Mupo Foundation we are working with elders, for us the elders are fountains of knowledge, without elders, we cannot say we will have a future... for us, as  we say we learned from the elders, sacred sites is not just a forest or a cave, as the elders say, sacred sites starts very deep under the ground, beyond where we can reach to up, up to where we can´t reach above the stars.."

She stressed that sacred sites "connect us on earth, and the ancestors in the ground and the one we don´t know, meaning the creator." If you disturb the sacred sites, you interfere with the connection of spirituality, of where we are and where our water comes from. We have disturbed this cycle of seasons that is why we have climate change. We do to sacred sites to pray for the health of whole communities. This is not a story, it is a reality. We want to raise this in a loud voice at COP17. Look at the disturbed indigenous forests, sacred sites and ecosystems. This is what causes climate change.

Our children today are growing knowing another way of life. The children, they know that  the food comes from the packets and from the shops, there is no relation to the soil... How can our children believe in the knowledge coming from the elders and from nature."

Forgetting to respect sacred nature

On behalf of the gathering, Mpatheleni shared the concerns from the elders regarding how even government do not respect their sacred sites, regarded as the dwellings of protective water spirits and early warning systems to droughts: "Today the department of tourism  have turned our sacred sites into an entertainment place. You will now find condoms scattered at our sacred site. You go inside our sacred site you find a concrete house with people sleeping there. There are modern burials there, with tombstones, plastic flowers and empty bags of cement."

The indigenous people of vhaVenda are sensitive to the delicate balance between culture, spirituality, livelihoods and nature. During the exchange the elders passionately explained that when individuals or industries disturb sacred sites they not only interfere and jeopardise Venda spirituality, but also jeopardise the natural ecological patterns that sustain all earth communities.

An elderly woman from Dzomo La Mupo testified "The rivers are empty, they should not be empty during this time, we have a month which is a restricted-sacred month, where we should not do anything during this month, we are not allowed marriage, or any other ceremony in that month... it is taboo...during this time you stay at home like the  Israelites...during this month people are mining minerals from the earth and burning the forest, now we are seeing that these months have shifted, that´s why there is climate change. How can there be balance, how can we be stable?"

A woman from the group affectionately called Makazi, carefully deciphered the large ecological calendar that the elders had previously created with younger members of the community. She highlighted the paramount importance of protecting traditional cultural cycles, based on understanding the interconnectivity and balance found in nature, and between people, in order to solve the complex problems of climate change:

"If you look at this calendar, this is the cycle, the movement of the ecosystem which is found in the sacred site, in the indigenous forest. We are saying as Dzomo La Mupo, there is no miracle to solve climate change if we do not go back to the roots. Our elders, the  ecosystem, this is our solution to bring order to this disordered world."

Alleged threats and bribes from Coal of Africa

Shocked by the response of Coal of Africa in a national newspapers (eds - Beeld and The Star) to their letter to the Water Affairs department, Moses Mudau states "categorically that they will persecute us legally". Another concern for Moses and the rest of the Mupo Foundation is the community consultation process made by the mining company. In order for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to be approved by government, the developer has to conduct a rigorous process of community consultation. According to Moses this process has been seriously flawed and allegedly even corrupt:

"They say they are busy consulting communities, so that they can indicate to the  government that they have met with the communities and the communities have agreed, but when we speak to them as community spokespersons they threaten we wonder what is really happening. What Coal of Africa is doing is not enough, there are many people out there who don´t really know what they (Coal for Africa) are planning."

In response, Coal of Africa's Investor Relations Manager Sakhile Ndlovu, said:

"We most certainly have complied fully with what the law requires in terms of community consultation and continue to do so; and yes, genuine concerns, articulated to us in the appropriate forums in good faith, are taken seriously and acted upon. Further, these are transparent processes where the outcomes of engagement are considered by the  authorities throughout the permitting and licensing process."

She said the company was "committed to the responsible development of its mineral assets" and "acting in compliance with legislation and regulation".

"We are committed to more than just compliance though - and believe that the company should do all it can to mitigate any negative environmental impacts and support the preservation of the natural environment, while creating direct and indirect job, and  supporting local economic development and skills development in local communities."

The suggestions of bribes and threats were dismissed. Ndlovu said that they were, however, "growing weary of individuals and entities using public platforms other than those provided by statute to make spurious, unsupported allegations against us" when they are protected by rigorous legislative safeguards.

"We have said that we will certainly consider using avenues available to us in the law to stop parties that maliciously seek to bring us into public disrepute. We also suggest that individuals or communities who are genuinely interested and affected parties engage through the processes and structures that are in place."

A male elder insisted the consultations benefited individuals at the expense of the community: " find now that the community is in darkness, they don't even know  what is happening, very few people will benefit. What we are saying as Dzomo La Mupo, the whole environment does not belong to an individual, even if I am a king I cannot make a decision
without proper consultation, proper consultation should be done properly. We are not against
the mine per say, we know that our people lack jobs, the issue is the repercussions of the
mine (and that) they may bring disaster to human life. We are saying as Dzomo La Mupo,
please do not damage our ecosystem, as no one can restore the ecosystem which is

According to Mpatheleni, who attended the initial public consultation process hosted by Coal of Africa, she learned from their engineers that if the mining is to go ahead it is estimated that by 2015 they would have used all the underground water reserves in the area. Mpatheleni recalls the meeting: "We stood up and said what about the ecosystem, you are not caring for the ecosystem, you are not caring for the eco-system that is the basin for the whole life. Then the director or the manager went out of the room, then we said to those who would allow us that 'you cannot apply this water licence, and minister should not give you this water licence, because once you are taking water you bring desert here. We are still against mining here because it will destroy trees, it will destroy our soil, it will pollute our air it will poison everything."

On the depletion of groundwater by 2015, Coal of Africa rejected the "alarmist predictions" which it said was not based on empirical facts and said it had commissioned "detailed analysis of water usage and sourcing and these are at an advanced stage".

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