Victory for environmentalists in battle over coal mine in Mpumalanga
The North Gauteng High Court on Tuesday refused mining company Atha Africa’s application for leave to appeal against a decision in 2018 setting aside permission for a new coal mine inside a declared protected environment.
The judgment is seen as a victory by eight civil society organisations which have been opposing mining in the area - a strategic water source in Mpumalanga.
The organisations believe that allowing mining there would threaten water security not only in the Wakkerstroom area but in the wider region.
In November 2018 the high court set aside 2016 decisions by former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane and the late environmental affairs minister Edna Molewa to permit a new coal mine to be developed inside the Mabola Protected Environment.
The Mabola Protected Environment was declared under the Protected Areas Act in 2014 by the Mpumalanga provincial government as part of the declaration of more than 70,000 hectares of protected area in the Mpumalanga grasslands.
This followed years of extensive research and planning by a number of government agencies, including the department of environmental affairs, the South African National Biodiversity Institute and the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency.
In 2016, without public consultation and without notice to the coalition, the two ministers gave permission for a large, 15-year coal mine to be built inside the Mabola Protected Environment. The coalition challenged the decisions in the high court.
When the court set aside permission in November 2018, it referred the decision back to the two ministers for reconsideration on the basis that they had not taken their decisions in an open and transparent manner or in a manner that promoted public participation.
On Tuesday, the court heard Atha Africa’s application for leave to appeal against the November decision to a full bench of the high court or the Supreme Court of Appeal.
The high court refused Atha's application. It also ordered Atha Africa to pay the legal costs of the coalition of civil society organisations which successfully opposed the application for leave to appeal.
The ministers of mineral resources and environmental affairs, as well as the Mpumalanga agriculture, rural development, land and environmental affairs MEC, had also applied for leave to appeal against the court's decision, but withdrew their application on Monday.
The court ordered that the state pay the coalition's wasted legal costs in preparing to oppose that application.
The coalition is composed of the Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of SA, groundWork, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, Birdlife South Africa, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, the Association for Water and Rural Development and the Bench Marks Foundation.
The coalition is represented by the the Centre for Environmental Rights.