Mining in protected, sensitive and strategic areas
Mining and prospecting rights are routinely granted in respect of environmentally and hydrologically significant areas in South Africa. It is therefore imperative that protection is given to those areas where no prospecting or mining should ever take place.
In addition to the declaration of protected areas, there are at least two legislative mechanisms that can be utilised by the Minister of Mineral Resources or the Minister of Environmental Affairs to declare certain areas as prohibited for mining (so-called “no-go areas”). Section 49 of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, 2002 (MPRDA) and section 24(2A) of the National Environmental Management Act, 1998 (NEMA) afford the Minister of Mineral Resources and the Minister of Environmental Affairs respectively with the power to declare no-go areas. In terms of the MPRDA provision, a prohibition can be imposed on the granting of prospecting or mining rights in respect of identified no-go areas and the NEMA provisions provide for the possibility of a prohibition on the granting of environmental authorisations for mining in identified no-go areas.
Despite repeated calls by civil society for the declaration of no-go areas, the Minister of Mineral Resources has not yet exercised his or her power in terms of section 49 of the MPRDA to protect environmentally significant and sensitive area. Section 24(2A) is a relatively new section and has to date not been utilised by the Minister of Environmental Affairs.