SANParks opposes proposal to mine coal at Mapungubwe

Monday, April 20, 2009

Musina - South African National Parks (SANParks) is challenging an application for a R3 trillion mining operation to be established at the entrance to the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site.

SANParks spokesperson Wanda Mkhutshulwa said on Monday that SANParks was opposed to the idea as it threatened the environment around Mapungubwe, particularly the quality of its water.

"We are currently engaging the department of minerals and energy over the concerns that we have as SANParks. We are concerned about the impact the mining will have on the national park," said Ms Mkhutshulwa.

""Our mandate is to look after the park and ensure that the environment surrounding it is protected. From our view, the mining project will have a negative impact on the water in the park."

She said meetings between SANParks and the Department of Minerals and Energy would be held soon to discuss the concerns further.

Department of Minerals and Energy spokesperson Bheki Khumalo stressed on Monday that the mining project was not a done deal.

"Coal of Africa has applied for mining rights with the department. This is an ongoing process. After all objections have been registered and all concerns considered the department will make a determination. We are still months away from that," said Mr Khumalo.

The Mapungubwe National Park, situated near Musina in Limpopo, is not only a game reserve, but is also home to the archaeological treasure of Mapungubwe, a kingdom predating that of Great Zimbabwe.

Mapungubwe was the base of a trading empire that traded with the people of China, India, Egypt and Persia, exchanging ivory, gold around the year 1200.

Mapungubwe National Park manager Tshimangadzo Nehemani said the park would lose its middle class market who has grown enchanted by the mystical allure of Mapungubwe.

"Our 2008/2009 tourist statistics show that we had 26 000 visitors, 76% of whom were locals while 75% were black," said Mr Nehemani.

A much-awaited interpretation centre will open by the end of this year, giving the public access to priceless gold work uncovered at the site, including the world-famous and exquisitely crafted tiny golden rhino, a gold sceptre and gold bowl.

JSE-listed mining company Coal of Africa (CoAL) presented a scoping report at a community meeting of about 150 people last Thursday, in which it stated that the Vele Mining Project, which would be a combination of an open cast and underground coal mine, would create jobs and inject investment into the province.

Chief Operations Officer Riaan van der Merwe said the project would create in the region of 14 000 direct and indirect employment opportunities or benefits during the construction phase and around 30 000 direct and indirect jobs during the operational phase.

But local business owners have complained that the scoping report failed to address concerns raised at previous meetings.

Among the concerns was the issue of an environmental impact assessmentstudy on how the Musina roads would be affected by coal-hauling trucks and dust from the coal.
"We have such a beautiful environment here. The atmosphere is clean and all of that will be wiped out by the coal business," said Paul Hatty, manager of Mopane Bush Lodge which is situated about 7km from the proposed mining site.

Mr Hatty said his lodge drew over 100 international tourists per month who routinely visited the world heritage site.

"We will lose our clients as no sane person will pay money to be swallowed by coal dust," he said.

Vhembe district municipal councillor Mapulanka Baloi welcomed the proposal, saying it would benefit many people.

"Coal of Africa has been consistent in its approach to this project since inception and we are excited about the prospect of them coming to Limpopo. The mine will create new levels of economic development and employment and bring the province to a new level of prosperity," said Mr Baloi.