Environmental laws to be better upheld

The Investing in African Mining Inbaba is currently under way in Cape Town, South Africa. Picture: Mike Hutchings, Reuters

The Investing in African Mining Inbaba is currently under way in Cape Town, South Africa. Picture: Mike Hutchings, Reuters

Published Feb 9, 2016


Johannesburg - Representatives of mining communities have called for mine executives to be sued in their personal capacity for environmental damage done to communal land.

The representatives told the Alternative Mining Indaba in Cape Town yesterday that the government also needed to step up its implementation of Social and Labour Plans (SLPs).

Delegates heard that even though the litigation process was expensive and protracted, it had become an important strategy to improve the livelihoods of mining communities.

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Matome Kapa, an attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights, said mining companies were failing to adhere to environmental legislation and the government had failed to enforce environmental laws.

“We have now begun a strategy for communities to sue mining companies for infringing environmental laws. Laying criminal charges was not an easy process,” Kapa said, adding that a R10 million fine could be levied against the company and its directors.

In a landmark court ruling, the mining director of Blue Platinum Ventures in Tzaneen became the first mining boss to be found guilty of breaking environmental laws in 2014.

Traditional healers in Madimatle mountain, near Thabazimbi, have been up in arms over a decision by Aquila Steel to drill 200 holes, construct 33km of road and clear vegetation on the mountain without governmental consent.

They approached the Centre for Environmental Rights, Kapa said.

“Charges were laid in May. Laying criminal charges sounds like an easy process. But in order to lay charges, two of our advocates went to Thabazimbi because police don’t have the capacity to deal with environmental laws. There are a limited number of advocates in the National Prosecuting Authority that deal with environmental issues,” Kapa said.

“Laying of criminal charges could be one of the ways to make companies liable. If more criminal charges (were laid) people will demand for state advocates to focus on environmental rights. This will build capacity for the government.”

Implementation of the SLPs still remained a weakness, the delegates heard.

SLP failure

The SLPs, meant to address the legacy of apartheid, were not catering for communities, said Louis Snyman, an attorney and member of the Wits University’s Centre for Applied Legal Studies.

He blamed mining houses for failures in the implementation of the law, citing a draft study of 50 SLPs completed by the university last year.

“After the Marikana massacre we found SLPs are not being fulfilled. Normal people cannot access information. It is cumbersome, and expensive for communities to do so.”

Anglo Platinum chief executive Chris Griffith said it had consulted extensively but could not find a single voice that represented communities.

“Every day we consult with communities but there are splinter groups that flare up like firecrackers. We cannot engage with different people every day,” Griffith said.


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