Death threats as mine battle turns nasty in Mpumalanga

According to The Citizen, a spat over the environmental authorisation for Indian-owned Atha-Africa Ventures’ Yzermyn Underground Coal Mine has resulted in death threats and a Bell Pottinger style campaign to try and shut down opposition to the mine.

So what is this about? In 2017 Mining Review Africa reported on the local community’s fight to stop the mine going into operation.

Essentially the mine is set to operate in a major catchment area, meaning that it will deplete the local groundwater and probably contaminate what is left.

When I say a major catchment area by the way – this is a water source for the Vaal River System – where Gauteng gets its water. It also hits the headwaters of the Usutu river – which goes to Swaziland and Mozambique.

This is all happening in the Mabola Protected Area, but authorisation was granted anyway.  There was an appeal against this, but it was recently dismissed.

Now onto the most recent development, one of the people leading the fight against the new mine is a farmer called Oubaas Malan.

Malan’s property falls within the catchment area too, so he’s been getting accused of hypocrisy due to a mine on his property. Malan has pointed out that the mine was started in the 1980s, before the Mabola Protected Area was declared, and he doesn’t actually have the rights to mine it.

He does concede that he tried to negotiate a fee with the most recent company to have a go at it, but that turned out to be a pretty bad idea – the mine caused major environmental damage and the company reneged on the fee. Coal mining is a dirty business.

And here’s the death threat:

According to The Citizen this threat was by, “Thabiso Nene, who heads The Voice Community Representative Council, a registered NPO billed as “a community-based organisation that stands for radical economic transformation” in the Dr Pixley Ka Isaka Seme local municipality where the would-be mine is located.”

My take

The ANC has a long history of being less than great when it comes to the environment in Mpumalanga.

The ministry of environmental affairs has historically, on an annual basis given Eskom a waiver for its emissions, which has played a part in Emalahleni having some of the worst air quality in the world.

The pollutants involved in that are known to cause everything from lung diseases, to mental illness to birth defects, and of course Eskom has repeatedly threatened to cut the power to Emalahleni for its failure to pay its electric bill. We can see from this that the ANC just doesn’t care about the environment or the people getting hurt by its dirty dealings.

So I look at the approvals for this coal mine, and I’m not exactly surprised that it got approval.

And of course, we have the whole Gupta saga to see how radical economic transformation seems to be more about protecting dirty dealings than actually improving the lot of black South Africans.

It is unfortunate that this is how my instincts go, but realise we spent years working in news with Jacob Zuma’s cohort telling us about how they were fighting “white monopoly capital”, and the media critical of him was “white owned” – only to have it revealed that a lot of it was enriching the Gupta family, who weren’t exactly fans of black people.

So I’m looking at this, and I’m getting this creeping feeling that this is going to turn into another example where identity politics is getting employed to make people less critical of just how bad an idea this really is.

So recognise when I look at this, there is a bias there – but it is a bias born of experience. This whole affair genuinely has alarm bells ringing for me.


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