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UPDATE: Appeal against Water Use Licence issued to Atha-Africa Ventures (Pty) Ltd for coal mine in the Mabola Protected Environment to be heard at a future date

28 March 2018 at 1:15 pm

Mabola Protected Environment, Photo: Suzanne Powell (February 2018)
Mabola Protected Environment, Photo: Suzanne Powell (February 2018)

In December 2016, the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the Federation for a Sustainable Environment appealed against the grant of a water use licence to Atha-Africa Ventures (Pty) Ltd (Atha) for its proposed Yzermyn underground coal mine in the Mabola Protected Environment.

In terms of the National Water Act, 1998, an appeal against a water use licence suspends that water use licence. The rationale for the suspension is that if water use commences under an inappropriate licence, that will cause unacceptable damage to the environment, and specifically water resources, which may be irreparable.

The Mabola Protected Environment is part of a strategic water source area and a national freshwater ecosystem priority area. It is also a threatened Grassland Biome in South Africa, namely the Wakkerstroom Wet Grasslands Area. Atha’s proposed mine will dry up the wetlands and will likely generate acid mine drainage.

In 2017, at Atha’s request, Minister of Water and Sanitation uplifted the automatic suspension of Atha’s water use licence, enabling it to commence the licenced activities. Accordingly, acting for the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) wrote to the Water Tribunal asking it to expedite the hearing of our clients’ appeal.

The appeal was ultimately set down for hearing from 26 to 28 March 2018. Regrettably, the appellants’ scientific expert and legal counsel were committed in other matters and were not available. The appellants were forced to seek a short postponement of the hearing to May 2018. Atha opposed that request. Atha did not, however, indicate how a short postponement would prejudice it.

On Monday, in Pretoria, the Water Tribunal heard argument on the request for postponement. The Tribunal refused the request. It also found that Atha had not shown how it would be prejudiced if the matter is postponed. The Water Tribunal accordingly removed the appeal from its roster and indicated that the parties may approach the registrar for new dates.

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Section 24 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996

Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevent pollution and ecological degradation; promote conservation; and secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.

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