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The battle continues as the Mabola Coalition is back in court to safeguard a Strategic Water Source Area

14 November 2023 at 7:26 am

Media Advisory
DATE: 14 November 2023

Today, another High Court review application by the coalition of environmental justice organisations, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), will be heard in the ongoing eight-year legal battle to prevent coal mining in a Protected Area and Strategic Water Source Area near Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga.

The case is a review of the 2019 decision taken by Gert Sibande District Joint Municipal Planning Tribunal and Dr Pixley Ka Isaka Seme Local Municipality: Municipal Appeal Authority (the Municipal Authorities) to grant a land use change approval allowing for the rezoning of a property in the bufferzone of the Mabola Protected Environment from agriculture to mining making way for a proposed new coal mine. The case will be heard virtually in the Middelburg High Court on Tuesday, 14 November 2023 at 10h00am.

Protecting water resources for present and future generations

The Mabola coalition seeks to protect the area’s water resources from the ravages of coal mining. The area forms part of the Enkangala-Drakensberg Strategic Water Source Area – one of South Africa’s 22 strategic water source areas (SWSA). These areas are strategic because, while making up only 10% of our land area, they generate 50% of the country’s fresh water run-off. SWSAs supply water to South Africa’s largest urban centres and agricultural areas and support downstream economies and ecosystems. The Enkangala-Drakensberg Strategic Water Source Area specifically supports Gauteng’s economic hub of Johannesburg and Tshwane as well as various towns and agricultural regions in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State.  Compromising this SWSA will have devastating consequences for the country, particularly given our water scarcity and recent droughts, worsened by climate change.

Safeguarding the integrity of the Mabola Protected Environment

The Mabola Protected Environment near Wakkerstroom was declared a Protected Area in 2014 under the Protected Areas Act. This followed years of extensive research, planning and consultation by a number of government agencies, including the then Department of Environmental Affairs, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), the Water Research Commission and the Mpumalanga Tourism & Parks Agency.

That declaration gave formal protection to this area.

The Municipalities’ decision to grant the rezoning approval in Mabola’s bufferzone allows for a proposed new coal mine in that Protected Area. The decision therefore undermines South Africa’s existing protected areas network as well as South Africa’s dedicated efforts to expand our country’s protected area network. Failure to consider environmental considerations, particularly the ecological importance of this area in the decision-making process is inconsistent with South Africa’s obligations to protect biodiversity and water resources at a time when there is an urgent need to build resilience and adapt for climate change impacts.

The Mabola Coalition seeks to have the decision set aside on the basis that:

  • the application for land use change should have been referred to the Minister of Agriculture because the change may be prejudicial to the interests of the Mpumalanga, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces as the area generates critical water supplies for those provinces;
    • the Municipal Authorities failed to consider:
    • environmental considerations;
    • the desirability of the proposed land use change;
    • relevant frameworks and policies set by national and provincial government;
    • comments on the application received from organs of state;
    • whether the correct procedure was followed;
  • the Municipal Authorities misdirected themselves by engaging in incremental decision-making.

The coalition defending the Mabola Protected Environment comprises the Mining and Environmental Justice Communities Network of South AfricagroundWork,  BirdLife South Africa, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, the Association for Water and Rural Development (AWARD) and the Bench Marks Foundation.

WHAT: High Court review application
WHEN: Tuesday, 14 November, 2023,  10h00am.
WHERE: Middelburg High Court. Virtual link to be provided upon request
WHO: The Mabola Coalition
WHY: An eight-year long legal battle to prevent coal mining in a Protected Area and Strategic Water Source Area near Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga.



Read more about the Coalition’s Challenges against the proposed coal mine in the Mabola Protected Environment; and the risks posed by mining in the area: Mining in Mabola: The slow violence of environmental degradation

The Centre for Environmental Rights defends the right of communities and civil society organisations to an environment not harmful to health or wellbeing for present and future generations. By advocating and litigating for environmental justice, we seek to advance our vision of a just, equitable, compassionate society which is resilient, celebrates diversity, and respects the inter-dependence between people and the environment.