MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Pondoland poised for 'green battle'

Published by MAC on 2003-07-04


Mineral Commodities Ltd (MRC, ASX) is a Perth, Australia, registered company with a copper mine in Queensland and two other mineral sands prospects: Tormin (not to be confused with Tiomin in Kenya), located 400 km north of Cape Town, and another at Walvis Bay, Namibia.

The company acquired the Xolobeni licence in Pondoland in 2001. During the following year, opposition was reported to be mounting - not least from the European Union and local people - although the tribal authority had signed a "probing" deal with MRC.

Opposition to mineral sands mining in South Africa stretches back over ten years to the huge campaign - joined by local people, trade unions and environmentalists - mounted against Rio Tinto's proposals to strip the pristine wetlands of St Lucia bay in Natal. The company's proposals were resoundingly rejected by the ANC government soon after it came to power.

Meanwhile, a recent survey of of global titanium feedstock competitiveness (published by TZ International Minerals Pty, Australia) , because of currency exchange movements, South Africa is now a brighter prospect than Australia.


Pondoland poised for 'green battle'

South African Press Association (Sapa)

04 July 2003

Cape Town - Any attempt to extract heavy minerals from the dunes along the Eastern Cape's Pondoland coast will be massively destructive; according to one South African expert, such mining operations typically wipe out everything in their path.

University of Natal geologist Dr Ron Uken says in terms of the environment, mining coastal dunes for titanium minerals such as ilmenite and rutile "leaves nothing".

"Existing vegetation, all the trees and plants, must be cleared ahead of the mining operation," he said on Friday.

What is left after the heavy minerals have been removed are huge piles of sand, devoid of all life.

Uken says restoring such an area after the mining cannot be referred to as rehabilitation.

"It's really a matter of re-vegetation."

Uken was contacted for comment in the light of reports that an Australian mining company, currently prospecting along sections of the Pondoland coast, is gearing up to actually mine the area's coastal dunes for ilmenite and rutile.

Although it has yet to receive permission and a license to do so, government has not ruled out that this may be granted.

According to reports, the Eastern Cape government is in favour of the operation being given the green light.

The Pondoland coast, earmarked for the establishment of a new national park, is described by conservationists as one of the world's most spectacular coastlines, with several biodiversity "hotspots", and species that occur nowhere else.

Describing how mining companies typically go about extracting titanium from dunes, Uken says there are two methods. The choice of which to use depends on the extent and grade of the deposit.

For a small deposit, he says, the simplest option is to use heavy digging vehicles and front-end loaders to dump the sand into trucks before taking it off for concentration and smelting. This is known as "dry mining".

For bigger deposits -- the one on the Pondoland coast is reportedly large, with high concentrations of the sought-after heavy minerals -- a "mining pond method" is the preferred option.

First, all the local vegetation is removed.

Then a 100-metre square "pond", about 5m to 10m deep, is dug on the inland side of the dunes. This is filled with fresh water, and a pontoon with hydraulic pumps and other equipment floated in the middle.

Uken says high pressure water hoses are used to blast sand from the dune into the pond, where it is sucked up by equipment on the floating pontoon and the heavy minerals concentrated and extracted.

About a ton of concentrate is extracted from every 10 tons of sand processed. The "waste" sand is dumped at the back of the pond. By sucking in sand along the pond's leading edge, and expelling material behind it, the pond than moves or, as Uken says, "migrates" through the dune.

The concentrate extracted is trucked to a smelter for further processing. Uken says lots of fresh water -- sea water cannot be used -- is needed for this type of operation, which usually requires a dam be built in the area to ensure a constant supply.

It also requires "massive" amounts of electrical power, he says

The plan to mine the Pondoland coast has provoked a national outcry from environmentalists and some politicians and community leaders.

In a statement on Wednesday, Democratic Alliance member of Parliament Errol Moorcroft, who recently visited the Pondoland area, said it was clear the provincial authorities "seem hell bent on allowing the mining development to continue".

Media reports last week said opponents to the mining were "gearing up for what is likely to be South Africa's biggest and most concerted green battle since the `Save Lake St Lucia' campaign of the early 1990s".


The Gold Coast

Johannesburg Mail and Guardian

14 August 2002

Port Elizabeth - The Eastern Cape provincial government has granted an Australian company a permit to prospect for minerals in a botanical "hotspot" on the Wild Coast, the Eastern Province Herald reported on Tuesday.

The Xolobeni Mineral Sands proposed project site lies at the heart of the Wild Coast spatial development initiative (SDI), which hinges on ecotourism, the report claimed.

It stated that the European Union, which has allocated R84-million for the development of this aspect of the SDI, had indicated that this funding would be curtailed if mining went ahead, and that Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Valli Moosa has warned, "the SDI will fail to meet its objectives".

The report further claims that in endorsement of the permit - which is valid until July 2004 -- the provincial mineral and energy department emphasised that only prospecting was being allowed and that local people had the right to know the value of minerals in their area so they could balance this against the value of ecotourism.

The newspaper said documentation in its possession indicated the value of the minerals was high and the company was clearly proceeding with the intention that it was going to mine it.

It said the latest permit grant in fact extended a "deed of variation" initiated in August last year, and that Australian company, Mineral Commodities, had already spent R1,39-million on probing the site -- which it called "world class".

The company is searching for titanium (a hard, light metal used in a variety of industries) and zircon (a semiprecious stone used in the jewellery trade), and has confirmed a R18-million investment in the project by the South African Export Development Forum.

The newspaper reported that the project site covered 22km of pristine coastline between the Mazamba and Mtentu estuaries in northern Transkei.

It extends 1,5km inland and includes a highly threatened coastal dune forest and a number of plants that occur in the Pondoland region and nowhere else in the world.

It is also valuable in cultural terms, with several Stone Age and Iron Age archaeological sites having been identified and forms part of the proposed Pondoland Marine Protected Area, which has never been declared.

The Amadiba Tribal Authority has capitalised on these natural assets with a successful hiking and horse-trailing ecotourism venture, which it manages.

Other members of the community use the area for subsistence farming and the Xolabani Tribal Authority entered into the agreement which facilitated the probe by the mining company.

Wildlife and Environment Society conservation director Cathy Kay said that although the authorities and the company insisted that only "profiling" was under way, the intention was clear.

"Judging by the money that is going into the project and the statements that have been issued, they clearly believe mining is a very attractive option," Kay said.

Kay said Moosa had called on the national mineral and energy affairs department, in a letter written on May 8 last year, for the permit to be withdrawn.

The minister had warned of the EU's "unequivocal concern" and of its position that it would have no interest in continuing with its support for ecotourism as long as the mining option persisted.

"He said there would be very little likelihood of investment in ecotourism if this happened and that the SDI would by definition fail to meet its objective." Kay said.

Kay said the granting of the new prospecting permit had raised the spectre of mining and development controversy at St Lucia and the danger that "paradise will be turned into a parking lot".

"We have in the Amadiba tribal authority a community of poor people who are implementing grassroots sustainable development -- exactly what is being called for by government. But now this venture, and others like it, is threatened."

Kay said the society would continue monitoring the project to ensure that rules of transparency were adhered to and that a proper environmental impact assessment was completed.


For further information contact:

Bryan Ashe
Earthlife Africa eThekwini
P.O. Box 18722
Dalbridge 4014
South African
Local Tel/Fax: 031-2011119
Cell: 0826521533
International:
Tel/Fax: +27-31-2011119
Cell: +27-826521533
E-mail: bryan@earthlife.org.za or bryan@mweb.co.za

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