Pondoland poised for 'green battle'Published by MAC on 2003-07-04
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".