Originally published here on 18 NOVEMBER 2019 AT 9:52 AM

The Constitutional Court has had the final say on the approvals for a coal mine inside an Mpumalanga Protected Area and Strategic Water Source Area. Earlier this month, the Constitutional Court refused the mining company’s final challenge of a 2018 High Court decision to set aside Ministerial approvals for the proposal coal mine.

The Mabola Protected Environment near Wakkerstroom, is part of more than 70 000 hectares of grasslands in Mpumalanga, that was declared protected under the Protected Areas Act by the Mpumalanga provincial government in 2014. This followed years of investment, including extensive research and planning by a number of government agencies, including the then Department of Environmental Affairs, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the Mpumalanga Tourism & Parks Agency.

South Africa has 22 Strategic Water Source Areas (SWSAs) which comprise 10% of the land area that produces 50% of the country’s fresh water. They supply water to South Africa’s largest urban centres, agricultural areas and support downstream economies and ecosystems. The Enkangala-Drakensberg Strategic Water Source Area specifically supports the economic hub of Gauteng as well as various towns and agricultural regions in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State.

Atha-Africa Ventures (Pty) Ltd (Atha) was granted a mining right for coal after this area had been identified as a SWSA and after the Mabola Protected Environment (Mabola) was declared. Alarmingly, after the mining right was granted, the various government departments responsible for the environment and our water resources issued the other authorisations Atha requires for its proposed mine.

This is why a civil society coalition went to court to defend the area from proposed new coal mining.  

Credit Mabola3

In November 2018, the Pretoria High Court set aside the 2016 decisions of the then Ministers of Mineral Resources and Environmental Affairs, Mosebenzi Zwane and Edna Molewa, to permit this new coal mine to be developed inside Mabola, with a punitive costs order against the Ministers and the MEC for Environment in Mpumalanga.

Mining company Atha attempted four times to challenge that judgment. The Constitutional Court was the mining company’s last hope. The civil society coalition defending Mabola was obliged to oppose all of those challenges and is delighted that the 2018 judgment remains intact. The Constitutional Court also awarded costs against the company.

“This is a significant victory. Our courts continue to recognise the importance of the protection of the environment, and our strategic water resources, especially at a time when we are already suffering the impacts of climate change. Decisions to authorise coal mines should be critically scrutinised and questioned.”

Elton Thobejane, Chairperson of Coalition member the Mining and Environmental Justice Communities Network of South Africa (MEJCON-SA).

For further reading, link to original article here; more importantly, check this article by GroundUp for an in-depth understanding of why these civil societies must remain incredibly vigilant. South African Ministers change their minds frequently and will refile (in this case: 3 months apart!) to re-open a protected area again for mining permits.

Why cannot good laws punishing erratic filings be enacted against a government official in their work capacity? #stopgovcorruption

Pretoria High Court judgment of November 2018. More information about the importance of legal protection for Strategic Water Source Areas. More information about the civil society campaign to defend the Mabola Protected Environment

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