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De Beers in battle over conservation

De Beers is stirring controversy with the intended sale of its Namaqualand mine.PHOTO SUPPLIED 2

De Beers is stirring controversy with the intended sale of its Namaqualand mine.PHOTO SUPPLIED 2

Published Sep 4, 2014

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Melanie Gosling

Environment Writer

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DE BEERS Consolidated Mines has been ordered by the Western Cape High Court to file answering papers by Tuesday in a case brought against them by an environmental group Conservation South Africa.

This is the latest development in a legal battle between the environmental group, the Department of Minister Resources and De Beers, which began in April last year.

It centres around concerns about the rehabilitation of the mined land after the sale of De Beers’ Namaqualand diamond mines to a Trans Hex subsidiary, Emerald Panther Investments. The diamond mines are located in vegetation called succulent Karoo, described as a “botanical gem”, and is one of 34 places in the world which contain just one percent of the world’s total plant species.

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All mining companies are bound to draw up a government-approved plan on how mined land will be rehabilitated. Conservation SA and some local residents worried that with the sale of the mines, there would not be enough guaranteed money to carry out the environment clean-up after nearly a century of mining.

The environmental group asked for access to certain information which included the financial provision for environment rehabilitation at these mines, the Department of Mineral Resources’ consent to the transfer of mining rights, and all environmental, health and safety compliance inspection reports issued by the department. The department refused. It claimed the documents contained information which could harm the financial interests of a third party.

In March Conservation SA began court action against the department, citing De Beers, Trans Hex and Emerald Panther as interested parties.

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The department then agreed the information was not “privileged” and said it would release it. However De Beers opposed the release.

It released some information, but this did not answer Conservation SA’s queries.

Since then De Beers has failed to file an answering affidavit to explain why the requested documents should not be released by the Department of Mineral Resources.

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On Tuesday, the court ordered De Beers to do so before September 9. The department is not opposing Conservation SA’s court application.

Catherine Horsfield, an attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights, said De Beers was trying to delay the court action, “probably to ensure the transfer of Namaqualand Mines to Emerald Panther is finalised prior to the disclosure of the requested records”.

Asked to comment, De Beers spokesman Tom Tweedy said yesterday the court ruling only confirmed an undertaking De Beers had already made to deliver its affidavit by that date. He said although De Beers had been cited as an interested party, it had voluntarily made disclosure of various documents to Conservation SA.

However, Horsfield said the only reason De Beers undertook to file papers was because Conservation SA had compelled them to do so in court, while the “various documents” De Beers had provided were not the records it sought

“De Beers is the only party opposing the disclosure of the records,” she said.

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