South Africa: Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Coal Mining Company’s Appeal

  • The civil society coalition defending a Mpumalanga Strategic Water Source Area came another step closer to preventing a coal mine from being built in that strategic water source area outside Wakkerstroom.
  • Last week on 23 April 2019, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) dismissed mining company Atha Africa’s second attempt to appeal the Pretoria High Court’s decision to set aside permissions for a new coal mine inside a declared protected environment.

In November 2018, the High Court set aside the 2016 decisions of former Mineral Resources Minister Zwane and the late Environmental Affairs Minister Molewa to permit a new coal mine to be developed in the Mabola Protected Environment near Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga.

In January 2019, the Pretoria High Court refused Atha Africa permission to appeal that judgment and awarded costs in favour of the civil society coalition. The SCA found similarly last week, that there was no prospect of successfully overturning the High Court judgment, and also awarded costs in favour of the coalition who had opposed Atha Africa’s petition.

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 & Parks Agency.

In 2016, without public consultation and without notice to the coalition, the two Ministers gave their permission for a large, 15-year coal mine to be built inside the Mabola Protected Environment.

In November 2018, the Court set aside the permission and referred the decision back to the two Ministers for reconsideration on the basis that the Ministers did not take their decisions in an open and transparent manner or in a manner that promoted public participation, and that the decisions were therefore procedurally unfair. The High Court also ordered the Ministers and MEC to pay the coalition’s legal costs on a punitive attorney and client scale.

South Africa’s 22 Strategic Water Source Areas, of which the Enkangala-Drakensberg Strategic Water Source Area is one, supply water to South Africa’s largest urban centres, agricultural areas and support downstream economies and ecosystems.

The coalition who brought the court application to set aside permissions for the proposed coal mine comprises the Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of South AfricagroundWorkEarthlife Africa JohannesburgBirdLife South Africa, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, the Association for Water and Rural Development (AWARD) and the Bench Marks Foundation.

The Coalition is represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights.

Author: Bryan Groenendaal

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