This is a slideshow of photographs taken from the air on two flights over the Mpumalanga Highveld undertaken by CER attorneys in June 2014 and May 2015. If you’re reading this on a mobile device and cannot see the images, take the time to go to our website and watch this slideshow.
That article was still as relevant as ever when two weeks ago, CER Executive Director Melissa Fourie took the same flight with the Bateleurs: taking off east of Johannesburg and flying south towards Ogies and Kriel, Hendrina to Arnot and Middelburg, and then back via eMalahleni. A year later, the devastating effects of coal-fired power, fed by vast opencast coal mines that decimate water resources, biodiversity and productive agricultural land, remain frighteningly evident.
A thick layer of smog lies over large parts of the Highveld – much more visible from the air than by those who have no choice but to breathe it. There are at least two power stations, sometimes three, wherever you look. Thousands of hectares of previously-fertile land and functioning ecosystems lie destroyed by opencast coal mining – even land that has been “rehabilitated” post coal mining, of which there is precious little in South Africa – can never again support productive crop-growing.
The Department of Mineral Resources continues to grant mining rights across the Highveld, often in areas of sensitive and irreplaceable biodiversity, and in precious fresh water catchment areas. The failure of this Department to conduct any cumulative impact assessments, to take into account the objections of other organs of state to the granting of new licences, and to conduct any meaningful enforcement of compliance with environmental laws, has created a toxic mess that poses a severe threat to South Africa’s food and water security.
And to make matters worse, the Department of Environmental Affairs has now granted Eskom, Sasol and other polluters five – and in many cases ten – more years to pollute at levels that exceed South Africa’s already-weak emission standards, despite the clear and proven health risks posed by current poor air quality on the Highveld. While new Eskom power station Kusile is still being built, at least three more privately funded coal-fired power stations are being planned for the Highveld. The provincial government and local authorities seem unable or unwilling to even try to stop this juggernaut.
And we continue to wait, despite years of promises, for Cabinet to approve a strategy to address toxic domestic coal burning for those who live amongst the power stations, but cannot access or afford electricity.
The Mpumalanga Tourism & Parks Agency has just launched an interactive map of all development applications in Mpumalanga, including for prospecting and mining (see pink and red areas respectively), received for comment by it between 2000 and 2015. The map makes abundantly clear the extent to which coal prospecting and mining now dominates land use on the Highveld.