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Environmental concerns rise as Orren Capital looks to mine ore in the Cederberg

The Orren Capital mining company has submitted a notice of its intention to mine iron and manganese ore near the Twee River in the Cederberg. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

The Orren Capital mining company has submitted a notice of its intention to mine iron and manganese ore near the Twee River in the Cederberg. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Apr 26, 2022

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Cape Town - Concerns are being raised after Orren Capital mining company has submitted notice of its intention to mine iron and manganese ore near the Twee River in the environmentally sensitive Cederberg.

There are five days left for interested and affected parties to submit comments on the company’s application. TPR Mining Resources was appointed by Orren Capital to conduct a basic environmental impact assessment for a prospecting right application to mine for manganese ore and iron ore on the remaining extent of the farm Pompies Hoek at 63 Ceres Road, under Witzenberg Local Municipality.

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There are major concerns surrounding the effect this endeavour would have on the environment at the prospecting location, particularly for the critically endangered Twee River redfin, the Doring River system, and the Groot Winterhoek Strategic Water Source area – which all fall within the location.

UCT PhD candidate and freshwater fish conservationist Cecilia Cerrilla said the proposed activities had the potential to cause lasting harm to human health, and to severely jeopardise an important water source for South African citizens, the Groot Winterhoek Strategic Water Source Area, which contained a disproportionately large amount of the country’s fresh water.

“As a water-scarce country, this strategic water resource area represents an important life source for South African citizens, now and for generations to come,” Cerrilla said.

She said the proposed mining has the potential to cause lasting harm to extremely fragile and irreplaceable ecosystems that contain sensitive and threatened populations of endangered aquatic species.

Freshwater Research Centre ecologist Bruce Paxton, who has worked on the hydrology and ecology of the rivers in the affected areas of the Cederberg, said: “The Twee River in the Cederberg is situated in one of our most important water source areas in the Western Cape. It is an important agricultural area in itself, and the Twee River supports populations of the critically endangered Twee River redfin fish.”

Cerilla agreed and said the critically endangered Twee River redfin was endemic to the Twee River catchment, and was already threatened by habitat loss. Pollution of its limited remaining habitat from the proposed activities could cause the extinction of this species entirely.

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Paxton said the balance between farming and ecosystems was also extremely sensitive in the proposed area, and the Freshwater Research Centre, WWF and the Western Cape Department of Agriculture’s Landcare programme had been working hard over the past few years to help farmers in the Twee River area develop water management plans that would promote more sustainable land and water management practices.

“The risks of mining operations to the environment here are therefore high – both in terms of water security and biodiversity. Most of the terrain is mountainous, and the steeply sloping ground would make it difficult to mitigate the risks of contamination and run-off from mining sites,” Paxton said.

The Basic Assessment Report (BAR) and Environmental Management Programme Report (EMPR) as seen by the Cape Argus, stated that according to the geological characteristics of the proposed prospecting area, the type of prospecting to be conducted would have a minimal impact on the environment as it would “only involve drilling and sampling of ore to determine the quantity and grading of the ore”.

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“The applicant (Orren Capital) intends to prevent impacts on the valleys, sensitive areas, watercourses, as it is situated in a mountainous area, as we have assessed and identified species and habitats that will be potentially impacted by the proposed activities in order to enable to the characterisation of the environment as well as flora and fauna species that may be impacted by the proposed prospecting activities,” TRP environmental assessment practitioner Thato Ramoraswi said.

Andricus van der Westhuizen, the DA Western Cape spokesperson on agriculture, urged the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy to consider the short- and long-term aspects of such a proposed mining operation, and to give serious consideration to the input from the public, interest groups and the agriculture sector when the time came for public participation.

The Doring River- the last wild, free-flowing, un-dammed river in South Africa and the only remaining habitat of the Endangered Clanwilliam sandfish which stood to be negatively impacted by proposed iron and manganese ore mining near the Twee River in the Cederberg. | JEREMY SHELTON Freshwater Research Centre

[email protected]

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