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Media Release: Civil society and community organisations take on Mineral Resources for authorising a coal mine inside an Mpumalanga protected area

1 April 2015 at 12:46 pm


On 1 April 2015, a broad-based coalition of eight civil society and community organisations launched an appeal to the Minister of Mineral Resources to set aside the Department of Mineral Resources’ decision to grant a mining right to a mining company inside a declared protected environment near Wakkerstroom in the Mpumalanga grasslands.

Wakkerstroom Ecosystem Mandhlangampisi cratorThe coalition, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights, is made up of BirdLife South Africa, the Association for Water and Rural Development (AWARD), Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, Federation for a Sustainable Environment, groundWork, the Mining and Environmental Justice Alliance SA (MEJCON), the Bench Marks Foundation and Endangered Wildlife Trust.

The right for a new coal mine was granted by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) to Atha-Africa Ventures (Pty) Ltd inside the Mabola Protected Environment in September 2014, only 8 months after the Mpumalanga MEC declared the area a protected environment under the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, 2003. Commercial mining can only take place in a protected environment with the permission of both the Ministers of Mineral Resources and Environmental Affairs. As far as the Coalition is aware, this permission has not been given.

Like most of the Mpumalanga grasslands, the Mabola Protected Environment falls in an area of immense hydrological importance. It is the source of three major rivers in South Africa and is composed mostly of wetlands, wetland clusters and pans. It has been classified as a Strategic Water Source Area, a National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Area and an Aquatic Critical Biodiversity Area.

According to Atha’s environmental impact assessment report (EIAR), it plans to de-water the wetlands, draw water from the subsurface water resources and to pollute the streams that feed the rivers originating in this area. The EIAR also states that decant of acid mine drainage from the mine in the mining and post-mining phase is highly likely. Atha proposes to mitigate the impact of the mine on the water resources in the area, but most of the damage to this extremely sensitive aquatic environment cannot be mitigated and will therefore be irreversible.


Spitskop, Wakkerstroom (Photo: Norman Dennett)

Deterioration of water quality and quantity in these areas will also have a disproportionately large negative effect on the functioning of downstream ecosystems and the overall sustainability of growth and development in the regions they support.

The mining right was applied for and granted without the identification of downstream water areas, the water users dependent on the water, or a quantification of the dewatering effect on economic activities downstream.

Atha is affiliated with an Indian multinational coal mining holding company, the Atha Group of companies.

Civil society organisations have pleaded with the Ministers of Mineral Resources and Environmental Affairs to prohibit and restrict prospecting and mining in areas of critical biodiversity and hydrological value and sensitivity since 2011. Despite undertakings to Parliament and commitments under the Presidency’s Outcome 10 Delivery Agreement, no such steps have been taken in Mpumalanga to date.

The Mabola Protected Environment (along with a number of other protected environments in the Mpumalanga grasslands) was declared in January 2014 after a five year consultation process involving the owners of the land constituting the MPE, the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency, the South African National Biodiversity Institute and various non-governmental organisations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa, BirdLife South Africa, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, various government departments and prospecting rights holders. The Mabola Protected Environment declaration was made despite objections by mining companies, including Atha.

The importance of the protection of this area had already been acknowledged by the Department of Mineral Resources and the Minister of Mineral Resources, who in 2012 advised the National Council of Provinces that steps had been taken to prohibit mining in Wakkerstroom.

The coalition has asked the Minister of Mineral Resources to overturn the decision of his Department to grant the right to Atha.


Media coverage and releases to date:


  • BirdLife South Africa: Simon Gear, Policy and Advocacy Manager, tel: 011 789 1122, email: [email protected]
  • Mining and Environmental Justice Network of South Africa: Thelma Nkosi, Chairperson, tel: 071 519 0133, email: [email protected]
  • AWARD: Sharon Pollard, Executive Director, tel 015 793 0503, [email protected]
  • Endangered Wildlife Trust: Yolan Friedmann, Chief Executive Officer, tel 011 372 3600, email [email protected]
  • Federation for a Sustainable Environment: Koos Pretorius, Director, tel: 083 986 4400, email: [email protected] / Mariette Liefferink, Chief Executive Officer, tel: 073 231 4893, [email protected]
  • Centre for Environmental Rights: Marthán Theart, attorney, email: mtheart at, tel: 021 447 1647
  • groundWork: Bobby Peek, Director, email: [email protected], tel: 082 464 1383
  • BenchMarks Foundation: John Capel, Executive Director, email: [email protected]