‘Ecological hotspot at risk’
A conservation group fighting to preserve the ecologically-sensitive Namaqualand and its communities affected by almost a century of mining, is concerned that large parts of land that De Beers has mined will never be sufficiently rehabilitated.
This week Conservation South Africa announced that it is ready to take legal steps against the Department of Mineral Resources to hold De Beers “to full transparency and public participation in its sale commitment” to mining firm Trans Hex.
Last week, De Beers announced that it was selling its Namaqualand Mines to Trans Hex, but Conservation SA is worried about what the deal, which it labels as secretive, means for the restoration of degraded mining land.
The Centre for Environmental Rights, acting on its behalf, has now written two letters to Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu asking her department to recognise the rights of environmentalists and Namaqualand communities to “have a voice in the process of environmental review and transfer of mineral rights”.
They want to be given detailed information about proposed amendments – which likely include a downgrading of rehabilitation obligations – to the environmental management programmes for Namaqualand Mines.
Namaqualand Mines is located in the Succulent Karoo biome, one of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots, but mining has one of the largest mining footprints in the country.
Conservation SA claims it has tried to engage De Beers on a responsible sale of its mine to a new firm, but that De Beers has not responded to its requests.
Ronald Newman, the programme manager of the Namaqualand programme at Conservation SA, said the group wasn’t opposed to mining.
“Our concern is responsible mining to minimise the impacts on pristine areas of the Namaqualand coast and support the local community in efforts to ensure they get a fair shareholder deal for long-term benefits from mining,” he said.
It is unlikely, Newman said, that enough money has been set aside for rehabilitation. “A decade ago, the restoration costs were estimated to be more than R250m. It’s 10 years later and we know the costs have escalated each year, but now De Beers is selling the mine for less than the restoration costs of 10 years ago – for R225m. That make us nervous.”
“There are some parts where some restoration work had started but for the bulk of the area, no action has been taken by De Beers on restoring it,” said Newman.
De Beers has hailed the sale as an important step in its “long term sustainability” in South Africa.
“Together with their plans to continue operations at Namaqualand Mines, Trans Hex has agreed to take on the environmental rehabilitation programme currently under way,” it said.
Tom Tweedy, the spokesman for De Beers, told the Business Day this week, that the mining company had evaluated Trans Hex’s ability to take on its liabilities, including environmental liabilities.
But Conservation SA and local residents question how De Beers assessed Trans Hex as having the necessary technical competence or “proven track record” for restoration of the fragile Namaqualand environment for accepting the liability associated with the mine.
The financial provisions may be insufficient to clean up nearly a century of mining operations.
Newman said he hoped the minister would respond soon to the organisation, adding that people were “looking for answers”. - Saturday Star