Durban - Ethekwini Municipality has secured a high court order, shutting down what it says is an illegal sand mining operation in an environmentally sensitive area in Cato Ridge which appears to have the “unauthorised” blessing of two local councillors.
The mining boss allegedly disregarded orders by the council to cease operations and ignored a contravention order.
Attached to the court papers in the urgent application against Malusi Stanley Mthembu, and two of his companies, is a letter on an official city letterhead dated June 2012 giving MS Mthembu Trading “permission to perform sand mining at Georgedale”.
It is apparently signed by Councillors B A Mkhize and JB Sosibo, councillors for Ward 1 and Ward 5 respectively.
This document was put up by Mthembu as “proof” that he has a lease agreement with the city in an application for a mining permit from the Department of Mineral Resources, which has not been granted.
Zimasa Mashiyi, city legal adviser, said in her affidavit which came before Pieter- maritzburg High Court acting Judge Peter Olsen, that there is no such lease agreement.
“Councillors have no authority to grant permission to anyone to mine the property. This would be dealt with by the real estate department with input from various departments including the Land Use Management Unit.
“The letter is wholly invalid,” Mashiyi said.
She said the illegal operation first came to the city’s attention about two years ago and since then officials had been attempting to shut it down.
The land, about 96.5 hectares, has a “significant wetland system and watercourse on it”.
It is presently unzoned and can only be used for agricultural purposes.
Trafford Petterson, a biodiversity enforcement officer, visited the property on several occasions, saw evidence of illegal sand-mining but was initially not able to identify the culprits.
One day he saw a tractor, loader and backhoe, used for excavating, being driven off the property.
He followed it to a trading store where it was parked and locked.
He took a photograph of the inscription “Mthembu Sand Stone and TLB hire” and noted a telephone number.
When he called he spoke to Mthembu, “who admitted he was conducting sand mining on the property and conceded he had no authority and had no lease”.
He was told to stop. But in February the next year Petterson again witnessed sand mining on the property and Mthembu was there personally, overseeing it. Petterson approached Mthembu but he refused to leave.
“Mthembu then phoned an individual whom, he said, was a councillor supportive of sand mining operations.
“He wanted Mr Petterson to speak to this individual but he declined to do so because even if the person was a councillor he had no authority over the property,” Mashiyi said.
Petterson called the metro police after which Mthembu and his workers left.
Twenty minutes later they were back, claiming the land was tribal land and they could do what they wished there.
“Mthembu became aggressive and threatened Petterson, so he left,” Mashiyi said.
Since then the mining has continued, excavating topsoil and stripping large areas of land of vegetative protection.
The miners have moved closer to the watercourse and wetland system, a natural habitat for birds, animals and insects.
On top of this the roads, not designed for heavy trucks and traffic, are being damaged.
Mashiyi said a contravention notice had been ignored.
Judge Olsen described the situation as “outrageous”. He granted an interim interdict, with immediate effect, stopping the sand mining and ordering that Mthembu rehabilitate the property.
Mthembu has until May 13 to oppose the order being made final.