August Newsletter: The Start Of Women’s Month Brings Good News!

Kirsten Youens was awarded third place in the category of outstanding human rights activist, social justice activist, and pro bono woman lawyer at the Woza Africa Awards recently.

WOZA AWARDS are annually presented to women lawyers in Africa in recognition of their outstanding dedication, achievements and contribution to the profession, whether it be services, legal education, human rights or the pro bono sector. 

More good news is the rallying of the social justice sector in support of ALL RISE against spurious attacks made against us by the respondents in the Tendele review case. In an extraordinary show of public solidarity, 38 civil society organisations supported a call on the National Union of Mineworkers, Mpukunyoni Traditional Authority, Mpukunyoni Community Mining Forum, and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union and their representative attorney, Dennis Sibuyi, to:

– Respect the 4 May Pretoria High Court ruling that Tendele Coal Mining’s 2013 application for a mining right (to expand its Somkhele operations) failed to comply with the law and that the decision of officials in the Dept. of Minerals and Energy to award that right was invalid; 
– Respect the right of the Mpukunyoni people to assert their constitutional rights without fear of reprisal; and
– Respect the right of ALL RISE to act without fear of harassment, intimidation and defamation.

The 38 organisations’ letter follows a 17 May 2022 statement titled “Mpukunyoni Community calls on All Rise and their funders to account to the community for their efforts to close Tendele Mine”, which attacks All Rise, demanding to know the source of its funding, accusing it of wanting to close the mine and stating that All Rise’s actions are “tantamount to a gross human rights violation”.

All Rise is genuinely humbled by the support and thanks every single organisation that signed this letter. An attack on one is an attack on all. 

In more sombre news, the applications for coal mining or prospecting around the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park are increasing. These include:

  • Prospecting activities proposed by Imvukuzane in the Fuleni Reserve.
  • The current and future mining operations of ZAC located northwest and west of Imvukuzane’s proposed prospecting area, and which fall in the five traditional authority areas of Zungu, Matheni, Mlaba, Mandlakazi and Ximba; the iMfolozi catchment; and on the northern and western boundaries of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. 
  • The current and future Somkhele mining operations of Tendele Coal Mining (Pty) Ltd in the Mpukunyoni Traditional Authority area and the iMfolozi and other catchments; and on the eastern boundary of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, and immediately north of the Imvukuzane prospecting area. 
  • The other current prospecting applications by Yengo Resources (Pty) Ltd) in the Ximba Traditional Authority area on the southwestern boundaries of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park; by Tendele Coal Mining (Pty) Ltd in the Mpukunyoni Traditional authority on the eastern boundaries of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park and by Raycom Resources Pty Ltd, southwest of the Imvukuzane prosecting area and the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. 
  • The previous prospecting activities already conducted by ZAC in the same area that Yengo is now proposing to prospect; by Ibutho Legacy (Pty) Ltd in the same prospecting area that Imvukuzane is now proposing to prospect; and by Tendele in the same area for which it is again applying for a prospecting right.
  • The mining rights held by Mbila Resources (Pty) Ltd for the Msebe Opencast Anthracite Mine and Mbila Underground Mine both east of Nongoma, also in the Zululand District Municipal area. 

The communities who live in these areas are our clients as members of the community organisation we represent, MCEJO. Currently, we are working with the Fuleni community, representing them and other organisations in opposing the prospecting application over their land. 

We continue to represent the Somkhele MCEJO community in many aspects. As Tendele has begun a new Scoping and EIA process (as per the requirements of the May judgment) in the three villages it plans to mine, one of our key focus areas is assisting our community and NPO clients in participating in this process. There is also an appeal against the granting of Tendele’s water use licence waiting for a hearing with the Water Tribunal. 

Yet another unfortunate decision by government on 8 July 2022 was the rejection of several appeals to the Environmental Authorisation allowing for the clearing of 8000 hectares of indigenous bush for the Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone ‘mega city’ project in Limpopo. The rejection of the appeals, collated by a loose coalition of social movements and interested and affected parties, including those involved with activist research and support for people in Limpopo, has been met with the coalition’s profound disillusionment as to the agency’s endorsement of the flawed EIA process. All Rise submitted an appeal in collaboration with CALS that detailed the flaws of the EIA process and the project as a whole. We are now discussing collaborating with the coalition to take this decision on review. 

Ending on a good note, All Rise continues to provide workshops to communities on the EIA regulations and how to meaningfully participate in the EIA processes. In the next month or two, we are also rolling out some workshops on climate justice and look forward to sharing that with you.

During Women’s Month, we will introduce you to each member of our amazing all-women board of directors, so keep an eye on our social media platforms.

We wish you a happy August!

Kirsten, Janice and Lihle

**As a non-profit clinic, we need funding to do our work. If you would like to support us, we would be very grateful! Head to this link to donate: 

Coal mining onslaught threatens the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park on an unprecedented level

Map of all Mining operations in the vicinity of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park

By Kirsten Youens

The southern white rhino has been to the brink of extinction and back, but even as it continues to be under threat from poachers, its survival is largely thanks to the conservation work of one park. Today, most of these rhinos can trace their ancestry back to the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP) in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa,” CNN reported in June 2020.

It was Ian Player and his mentor, Magqubu Ntombela, a game ranger and descendant of the great Zulu chiefs, Shaka and Dingaan, who set up wilderness trails in the iMfolozi and sparked a global wilderness consciousness movement.

As Player wrote, “everyone who comes to the wilderness is changed by it, no one who sleeps on the ground underneath the blaze of southern stars and hears the roar of the lion, the coughing of the leopard, the howl of the hyena, the scream of the elephant and smells the smoke of wild wood burning is ever the same again.”

And in what must be recognised as one of the greatest conservation achievements of all time, Ian Player’s “Operation Rhino” achieved a 1,000% growth in the white rhino population in the 1960s saving the 40 Southern White Rhino left in the 1940s from extinction. Operation Rhino took place in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park which is also the oldest proclaimed game reserve in Africa, having been established in 1895.

The Park sits on a coal belt and has, for over two decades, been subjected to the difficulties of having two coal mines as its neighbours on both its north and east boundary. Coal mining is polluting, noisy and not a good neighbour for the communities they inflict their pollution on nor the wild areas where animals and people live peacefully and, (gasp) even thrive. It seems utterly bizarre that coal mining would be given a place adjacent to ancient wild heritage and centuries-old Zulu culture — but that’s exactly what happened.

And continues to happen. The situation as it stands today is that there are three prospecting applications — for coal mining on the western and southern borders of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve respectively — and two coal mine expansion applications (for coal on the western and eastern borders of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve respectively) as well as several in the near vicinity.

One of the main causes of the climate crisis is the fossil fuel industry which, particularly in South Africa, is still being pursued in spite of the damage it causes to the environment and at grassroots level in the communities in which the mining takes place.

Coal mining repeatedly forecloses on alternative, more sustainable land uses; undermines biodiversity conservation efforts; impacts heavily on water resources; strips people of their land rights; destroys subsistence-based livelihoods and cultural heritage; causes division in the community; and erodes people’s right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing — a right afforded to them by Section 24 of the Constitution, 1996.

Freshwater ecosystems, including rivers and wetlands, are particularly vulnerable to coal mining and related activities that can often result in irreversible damage or longer-term gradual, cumulative impacts. Coal mining will result in significantly reduced water quality due to acidification and ferric sulphate (which kills fish and other aquatic fauna), hydrocarbons, coal dust and nitrate deposition, together with high turbidity.

South Africa has 22 water source areas which are the source of our five major river systems and which support approximately 60% of South Africa’s population. The Mfolozi Headwaters is one of these areas with the Black Mfolozi, Pongola and Lenjane Rivers being the main rivers which flow from Mfolozi Headwaters. It feeds a number of free-flowing rivers including the Mkuze, Nsonge, Ndonweni, Ngogo, Mfule and Nyalazi.

Three Ramsar Sites: Kosi Bay, Lake Sibaya and St Lucia system fall within this water source area.

The Mnyaba and Nyalazi river systems are classified as nationally important Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas (Fepas), the Mnyaba river has a “medium-high” Ecological Importance and Sensitivity (EIS) rating and Nyalazi River has been rated medium in terms of EIS. The White Mfolozi is identified as being a strategic spatial priority for conserving South Africa’s freshwater ecosystems and supporting sustainable water resources.

The St Lucia Estuary is one of the main components of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site. The estuary is by nature dynamic. It is driven, at any given point in time, by five rivers and sea water inflows through an estuarine mouth. Of the rivers, the Mfolozi is the largest. The wetland park supports a range of plant, bird, fish, and animal species.

All of these mines and prospecting applications fall within the Mfolozi Catchment or are situated along the Mfolozi River. The Black Mfolozi flows through ZACs mining right area and into the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. A drainage line flows through Zululand Anthracite Colliery’s (ZAC) Nqolothi coal siding (which stockpiles coal for transport) and into the Nhlungwane stream, which is a tributary of the Mfolozi River. ZAC abstracts water from the Black Mfolozi River in an amount we are unable to ascertain but the annual water requirement for its proposed expansion is 190,453.69m3 per annum.

According to Tendele’s water licence (which we have appealed to the Water Tribunal) it abstracts up to 750,000m3 per annum from the Mfolozi River and abstracts (by way of dewatering) 2.5-million m3 per annum from the ground.

According to South Africa’s National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, 2019 (approved in August 2020), access to fresh water, which is already a major challenge in these areas, is predicted to become a much bigger problem as the climate crisis intensifies, with potentially devastating effects. South Africa is to experience drier conditions overall with higher water demand and deteriorating water quality in river systems, water storage reservoirs and groundwater. Our current water usage already exceeds reliable yield.

In most climate-crisis scenarios projected for South Africa, future water supply availability will worsen considerably by 2050. Decreased availability of water in rivers is a result of the net effect of increased temperatures and increased evaporation, combined with shifts in the timing and amount of rainfall; changes in the timing of high and low flows due to changes in rainfall patterns; and a higher incidence of floods as heavy rainfall events increase.

According to the Adaptation Strategy, in the event of future water shortages, meeting the reserve (i.e. water quality and quantity needed to satisfy basic human needs and protect aquatic ecosystems to ensure ecologically sustainable development) must take priority over water uses in the mining sector. If basic human and environmental needs are not given precedence, as required, this could have significant impacts for environmental and human health — resulting in breaches of fundamental constitutional rights to a healthy environment and the right of access to sufficient food and water.

Essentially, what is happening in northern KwaZulu-Natal, in a Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Area, is a war on water and our climate resilience.

To have any more mining and prospecting rights issued on top of all the current mining is evidence that the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) has absolutely no intention of protecting the natural areas of the country or meeting our climate commitments. What DMRE is doing is showing complete disregard for any other department in government and for the people of South Africa.

If not for community organisations and civil society opposing these many applications, there is no doubt that DMRE would just grant all the applications that come its way. With environmental authorisations also being issued by DMRE, both the environmental authorisation and the mining right are granted without issue or delay.

Unless they are opposed by us, the people.

Let’s be honest. No one wants to drive through the wasteland of filth that is an open-cast coal mine before entering a game reserve. No one wants to spend time in a wilderness area when the light and noise pollution from a mine ruins the experience. No one and no animal wants to drink water from a river that is polluted by mine waste. No person would choose to live next to a mine and be exposed to dust, noise and pollution every day.

While the world moves away from coal, South Africa welcomes more and more. What DMRE is doing by issuing mining licences in this area is nothing short of ecocide.

This article was published in the Daily Maverick on 30 June 2022.