Still nursing bloody noses from their last encounter in the legal boxing ring, Mtunzini residents are going back to the high court for another round with multinational mining giant Tronox, hoping to halt an opencast dune mine next to the Zululand resort town.
Earlier this year, Durban High Court judge Rashid Vahed dismissed a legal application by the Mtunzini Conservancy, which sought to prevent Tronox KZN Sands from mining heavy minerals next to the town.
He also ordered the conservancy to pay all the legal costs.
The conservancy applied for leave to appeal, arguing that Judge Vahed had “misdirected himself in disregarding the constitutional importance of the issues in this case” and that he was also “unduly critical” of the conservancy’s actions in bringing an urgent application before the court.
However, the matter was later settled out of court when both parties agreed to pay their legal costs.
Now, barely six months after losing the last court encounter, Mtunzini Conservancy chairwoman Barbara Chedzey confirmed yesterday that the conservancy had taken legal advice and would challenge the original environmental authorisation given to Tronox last year by the provincial MEC for Environmental Affairs, Meshack Radebe.
This time, the conservancy is expected to argue that Tronox had taken a procedural short cut to avoid having to do a full environmental impact assessment. Instead, Tronox had been granted permission by the provincial government to perform a basic assessment report, which is less thorough and requires less public consultation than a full environmental impact assessment.
Chedzey said that, by using the basic assessment route, Tronox had effectively side-stepped proper public scrutiny and the conservancy was “very disappointed” that a minister charged with protecting the environment had endorsed the “totally inadequate” basic assessment process.
“This is a fight of many rounds and we remain right in the middle of it on a number of fronts. Participation in all these rounds costs a lot of time and money and, to be successful, we need the broad support of civil society – both moral and financial.”
Chedzey said the Mtunzini mining case would set precedents that would be felt by civil society for many years to come.
“We must draw a line in the sand, and say ‘not on our watch’. If we don’t do it, who will? Who will preserve our natural heritage from the worst ravages of mining if we don’t?”
Tronox KZN Sands, which hopes to extract 190 000 metric tons of titanium dioxide ore and 60 000 metric tons of zircon from the new Fairbreeze mine at Mtunzini over the next 12 years, said yesterday it could not comment as it was not aware of a high court review case.
“Tronox respects the right of any organisation to follow legal processes available under South African legislation. Tronox, however, cannot support this decision and remains adamant that other avenues of communication and compromise should rather be pursued.
“This attitude will better serve all involved in the Fairbreeze project. Tronox is, however, confident that due process was followed with its (environmental) licence application and is therefore continuing with authorised construction activities at the Fairbreeze mine, with the objective to start full-scale mining during the latter part of 2015.” - The Mercury