30 January 2014 at 11:28 am
While coal may be an abundant commodity in Mpumalanga, for those of us working to realise environmental rights for mining-affected Mpumalanga communities and future generations of South Africans, good news is not something we receive every day. But last week, Mpumalanga MEC for Economic Development, Environmental and Tourism, Yvonne “Pinky” Phosa, stood up to mining companies to declare more than 73,000 hectares in Mpumalanga as “protected environments” or “nature reserves” under the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, 2003. These are:
- at long last, the Chrissiesmeer Protected Environment, covering almost 6,000 hectares. This new protected environment is situated northeast of Ermelo, near Carolina. For those of you who have been following the Centre’s public commentary on the need for protection of this area, this protected area now includes the properties in respect of which Msobo Coal (Pty) Ltd have applied for a mining right. Msobo expressly opposed the declaration of this protected area;
- the Mabola Protected Environment, which covers about 8,500 hectares near the towns of Wakkerstroom and Dirkiesdorp in southern Mpumalanga;
- the existing Kwamandlangampisi Protected Environment north of the R543 between Wakkerstroom and Piet Retief in southern Mpumalanga, which has been extended by just over 3,000 hectares;
- the Mndawe Trust Protected Environment situated in the Thaba Chweu Local Municipality (north Mpumalanga in the vicinity of Lydenburg, Graskop, Pilgrim’s Rest) which covers just over 825 hectares.
In addition, the MEC also gave protected area status to the Tafelkop Nature Reserve in southern Mpumalanga (Pixley Ka Seme Local Municipality).
We have in the past written extensively on how the Minister of Mineral Resources has undertaken, but failed, to declare the Chrissiesmeer Biodiversity Area as a no-go area for mining. The questions we posed to Minister Shabangu regarding her intentions remain unanswered to date. However, what MEC’s Phosa’s declaration as protected environment means is that no commercial prospecting and mining activities may take place in these areas without the written permission of both the Minister of Environmental Affairs and the Minister of Mineral Resources. And as with all nature reserves, commercial prospecting and mining activities are completely prohibited in the Tafelkop Nature Reserve.
In the week before the start of the annual Mining Indaba and in the months before the general elections, it is inspiring to see an elected official giving effect to her Constitutional obligations to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations. We acknowledge the insight and commitment of MEC Phosa, and the many years of hard work of the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency and other organisations working in Mpumalanga.