In critically water-scarce Limpopo Province in northern South Africa, support for coal mining is fast drying up.
The Gaia Foundation has been supporting the people of Venda, who are opposing an intensifying mining craze in the province – new and existing mines are threatening their very livelihoods. The Makhado and Vele mines operated by Coal of Africa Ltd (CoAL) will cause severe ecological, social and economic damage to their ancestral homes if they go ahead. The coal seam in this area has been known about for some time, but the big players in the mining world have not mined because of the lack of water. It seems that CoAL are willing to take what they can out of the Earth until they have sucked the province dry. This why there is mounting opposition from a growing coalition of local people in the area.
“Everyday they are telling us on the radio and on the television that we must save water – if there is not enough water for our basic needs how can there be coal mining here?”
Mphatheleni Makaulule of the Mupo Foundation
The Limpopo Valley is an area of critical ecological sensitivity, which is increasingly being threatened by the expansion of mining concessions and prospecting. South African Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu recently committed to adopt an integrated licensing system and to prohibit mining in ecologically sensitive areas.
The Gaia Foundation supports the global movement for the recognition that areas of critical ecological, cultural and spiritual importance must be recognised as a no-go areas for any development – especially mining and extraction.
Three important documents have been published recently that raise serious concerns about the impact that CoAL’s mining operations are having in the area:
The Makhado Action Group: Media Announcement
Greenpeace Africa Report: Coal’s Hidden Water Cost to South Africa
UNESCO report: State of Conservation of World Heritage Properties Inscribed on the World Heritage List
This report (published in June) expresses serious concerns about the continued and increasing threat that CoAL’s Vele mine poses to the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape.
The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape is a listed World Heritage site located at the northern border of South Africa, joining Zimbabwe and Botswana. It is an open, expansive savannah landscape at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers. Mapungubwe was once the largest kingdom in the sub-continent. What survives are the almost untouched remains of the palace, as well as two earlier capital sites, the whole presenting an unrivalled picture of the development of social and political structures over some 400 years. The Mapungubwe Landscape was declared a World Heritage Site in 2003. It is also part of the ‘Vhembe Biosphere Reserve’, named a biosphere reserve by UNESCO since 2009.
The report is categorical in its findings that:
- Open-cast mining will irreversibly damage the area and the cultural landscape of Mapungubwe.
- The vast water requirements for coal mining is not viable in an area which has severe water shortages.
- A buffer zone must be respected in order to protect the site from permanent destruction by open-cast mining.
The Vele mine will not only irreversibly damage the site and its surroundings but it will desecrate the cultural landscape. Mapungubwe’s preservation hangs dangerously in the balance by operations at the Vele mine and by the proposals for developing further mines in the area.
The Makhado Action Group (MaKAG) issued a Media Announcement this week outlining their position on the Makhado mine.
MaKAG is a group made up of local residents, farmers, community groups and concerned citizens from Limpopo. Following extensive legal consultation, their announcement exposes CoAL’s flawed application process and incomplete procedural requirements for mining rights at Makhado.
See below for a summary of points from the announcement. You can find the full statement here.
The status of the Makhado Mine Application:
- CoAL submitted an incomplete Environmental Impact Assessment and Environmental Management Plan to the Department of Mineral Resources on 24 August 2011. The application by CoAL for mining rights at the Makhado site has now lapsed the extended 120 day period for the Minister to approve the submission. (This was 22 December 2011).
- CoAL and the Department of Mineral Resources have failed to respond to legitimate enquiries for information – this highlights that that a fatally flawed process has been followed.
- There has been inadequate consultations with Interested and Affected Parties, including communities within the mining area; principally the Mudimeli community which is located within 250 meters of the proposed mining area.
- CoAL has failed to respond to recommendations by peer reviewers it had appointed to enhance the groundwater studies. This means that whatever information is contained in the incomplete Environmental Impact Assessment is in itself incomplete.
- CoAL has failed to secure an adequate and credible water supply to conduct the proposed mining operation.
- CoAL, by their own admission has insufficient resources to conduct post closure operations of rehabilitation.
In addition, MaKAG comments on The Water Situation:
“…various communities including subsistence and commercial agriculture, tourism ventures and other commercial enterprises are dependent on very scarce water resources. Communities in the area are constantly faced with a lack of sufficient potable drinking water. Since inception of the prosed mining activities, the burning issue has been the source of the water which is required for a coal mine of the magnitude proposed by CoAL and the impact on existing water resources and those dependants on it”.
Greenpeace South Africa report: Coal’s Hidden Water Cost to South Africa
South Africa is facing a national water conflict, and coal is right in the middle of it. It is projected that South Africa will experience a supply and demand shortfall of 2.7 billion cubic metres of water by 2030. South Africa’s power utility Eskom is building the Kusile coal power station which will be one of the biggest in the world and will need a steady supply of 71 million litres of water a day. Eskom’s power stations supply more that 95% of South Africa’s electricity and about half of the energy used on the African continent. Last year it used 327 million mega litres to produce that electricity – this is 2% of South Africa’s water.
Environmentalists have already questioned the water and carbon footprints of South Africa’s coal power stations but this report warns that the hidden water footprint and environmental devastation is located at the mines that supply the coal. The coal mining process is vastly water intense and deadly as it pollutes soil and water supplies as it spreads underground and flows into rivers and streams.
Communities in Limpopo are literally at the coalface in this fight over water. An area with the rainfall equivalent of the Kalahari, the region is already severely water scarce. CoAL’s Makhado coal mine project was given the green light by the Department of Mineral Resources without having a clear view of where they will get the water from. There is not enough water for the local communities let alone for coal mining. Local communities, and farmers are fighting for their livelihoods:
“There is a huge fight coming” says Jonathan Mudimeli chairperson of the Mudimeli Royal Council, whose community is in the middle of the proposed mine. “We fear our boreholes will dry up if this mine is allowed”
The report concludes that the hidden water footprint of the mines that supply the coal for South Africa’s electricity will inreasingly become a source of conflict in the near future. Agriculture will surely bear the brunt of this water shortage if South Africa continues to push forward with coal as its main source of energy production.