Update: August 2018 to April 2019 – Status of the Save Our Wilderness campaign

The wise Greek philosopher observed more than 2500 years ago that change is the only thing that is certain. 

Heraclitus

4 April 2019; original blog by Rob Symons published at Save Our Wilderness

Protesting workers close Tendele mine

On 24 August 2018, placard-waving workers from Tendele Coal Mine in Somkhele, stood outside the Pietermaritzburg High Court protesting against our (Save Our Wilderness organization) application to close the mine for being non-compliant.

On 1 April 2019, eight months later, these same protesters closed the mine themselves! 

Who would have thought this possible? Some people considered the reported closure an April Fool’s hoax. Undoubtedly, the mine would have been happy if this had been so, but it is fact not fiction.

The workers closed the mine because of grievances relating to underpayments in their salaries – in some instances, as much as R10,000 a month. Significant differences in salaries being paid to people doing the same job have also created dissatisfaction. These arise from Tendele’s non-compliance with union rates. Negotiations with the CCMA are ongoing to try and resolve the situation.

How ironic that the workers achieved what our High Court application failed abysmally to do. Not only did we lose our case but Judge Seegobin ordered us to pay the mine’s legal costs.

Our High Court case was challenging Tendele for its non-compliance but, in our case, it related mainly to no Environmental Impact Assessment and no waste management licence. These should surely be mandatory, particularly for such a polluting activity right next to the historic Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park, established over 100 years ago as a sanctuary for the last remaining White Rhino on the African continent. The honourable Judge thought otherwise.

Tendele’s History of Non-Compliance

While Heraclitus is right that change is inevitable, Supertramp, a superb English rock band from the 70s wrote a song called “Some Things Never Change”. This would provide a good title for the long litany of non-compliance associated with Tendele since it started its operations in 2007.

For seven years, the mine operated without a valid water use licence. The mine also exhumed and relocated hundreds of graves without necessary permits and reneged on its agreed compensation to families for the exhumation of the remains of their ancestors – a very serious matter in Zulu culture. The mine has taken the property of hundreds of people without compensating them for their land, only for their homes, arguing that they live on tribal land that belongs to the Ingonyama Trust Board. It turns out the mine is wrong, and that people in tribal areas are entitled to be paid out for their land or relocated to a place that is similar to the land they have had to vacate.

In August 2018, the South African Human Rights Commission released its report on mining affected communities, a document that includes numerous human rights abuses perpetrated by Tendele.

Earlier in 2018, ActionAid conducted an audit of Tendele’s Social Labour Plan and discovered glaring discrepancies between what the mine had committed itself to do and what it has actually done. This is likely to result in court action against Tendele. Compensation claims are also in the process of being compiled against the mine. And so, the list of non-compliance goes on….

So who benefits from Tendele? 

Clearly the workers are not benefitting as they should, hence the closure of the mine on 1 April 2019.

Somkhele residents are definitely not benefitting, particularly those directly affected by the negative impacts of Tendele mine. The general complaint is that the majority of residents are much worse off now than before Tendele started mining in 2007. This complaint is valid and runs counter to the falsely held belief and narrative that mines uplift and develop communities. This is not true.

So, who are the beneficiaries of Tendele’s millions? There are the usual well-paid CEO and top mine managers, and the shareholders when stock markets are strong, but it appears the main beneficiary is an unidentified entity, referred to in Tendele’s Mining Works Programme as “Royalties-Tribe”. From July 2018 to June 2019, it is tabled that the “Tribe” would be paid over R9-million; the government R3.5 million; and Mine Health and Safety Regulations just over R8-million. For the same period, it was anticipated R35,281 would be paid in rates and taxes. Go figure this out.

Where are we now? 

GET/MCEJO Court action

Judge Seegobin’s punitive judgement made in the Pietermaritzburg High Court case against GET, Sabelo Dladla and the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) is on appeal. We are waiting for a date, probably in August, for our appeal to be heard. We are confident we will win, which opens the way for us to take our case to the Supreme Court in Bloemfontein, which we also anticipate winning.

A recent article in the Business Day confirms strong support from the highly respected Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) for our case. They see our application as setting an important precedent for the mining sector to comply with environmental requirements set out in the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA). Currently many mines in South Africa are operating without the necessary authorisations. 

Regarding the costs order, CER’s program head for mining, Catherine Horsfield, expressed grave concern that if this judgement is allowed to stand, it could have “a chilling effect” on civil society’s important watchdog role of bringing legal challenges that are in the public interest to the courts thereby defending our constitutional rights and protecting the environment. 

MCEJO Court Action 

At the same time, MCEJO is calling for a review of the dismissal of its appeal by Minister Gwede Mantashe, who approved the 222 km² mining right granted to Tendele mine in 2016 for 30 years. This matter will be heard in the Pretoria High Court. The date is still to be set.

The mining right incorporates the area north of Tendele’s current mining operations for the full length of HiP, as far north as Centenary gate. The initial application was for 34 km² and the specialist studies also cover this area, which amounts to less than 5% of the total area. The Minister deemed this and the consultation process adequate. Meanwhile none of the affected communities nor Interested and Affected Parties (IAPs) like MCEJO, GET, MACUA, WAMUA, Womin, groundWork, the Wilderness Leadership School, the Wilderness Action Group, WESSA, Wildlands or local tourism operators were informed about this application until GET’s attorney, Kirsten Youens, discovered the mining licence and brought it to everyone’s attention.

Fuleni and Ibutho Coal and Imvukuzane Resources 

On 1 May 2014, GET initiated the Save Our iMfolozi Wilderness (SOW) campaign to support the Fuleni community in its opposition to the proposed Ibutho Coal mine. Fuleni is a tribal reserve on the south-eastern boundary of the iMfolozi Wilderness Area, across the Mfolozi river from Somkhele. This area is held sacred by the Zulu people because it was where King Shaka grew up as a boy and incorporates the hunting grounds reserved for the Zulu Kings. 

After an intense three-year battle, Ibutho Coal seemed to disappear off the scene. Then, in June 2018, Imvukuzane Resources sent out notice that they had applied to prospect the Fuleni Reserve. This was met with a strong response from the IAPs and the Fuleni residents who are steadfast in their resolve not to allow mining on their land.  Nothing further has happened and after several months we discovered that Ibutho Coal is challenging the Department of Mineral Resources for rejecting their application on grounds that they cannot adequately mitigate the impacts their mine would have on the iMfolozi Wilderness area.

Effectively this means Imvukuzane’s application will have to wait until this matter has been resolved. One wonders how the Imvukuzane mine will be able to mitigate its impacts, which are likely to be similar.

Meanwhile a couple of interesting development projects are being initiated by Fuleni residents demonstrating that the people are taking control of their own future. There is a well-managed community goat breeding project that ensures the carrying capacity of allocated land is constantly monitored and not overstepped  Linked to this is fincluding a goat meat processing plant being established by a group of enterprising young women from the area.

So positive change is definitely taking place….proving Heraclitus correct. There is nothing permanent except change.

Call to Action:

Do you care about the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Wilderness and do you want to make a difference?

Good news: YOU can!

You can donate funds here, if you like.

But wait: we have another way of being that difference. For instance, you can also organize a fun evening and ask your friends and family to donate to your crowdfunding evening; check for more info here.

Multi-Award Winning Documentary Highlights the Mining Threat to iMfolozi: Sisters of the Wilderness

THIS SOCIAL IMPACT DOCUMENTARY ‘SISTERS OF THE WILDERNESS’ WON BEST SOUTH AFRICAN FEATURE DOCUMENTARY AT THE DURBAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL AND QUALIFIES FOR THE OSCARS.

The film is mostly set in the iMfolozi wilderness area, within the oldest proclaimed game reserve in Africa and one of the fast disappearing pockets of wilderness where wild nature can be experienced at its purest form.

Since time immemorial this sanctuary has maintained its raw wildness. Here an ageless spirit survives and one can sense a spiritual connection to the land. The iMfolozi valley was the heartland of the Zulu people who lived here in harmony with nature and with great respect (inhlonipho) to Mother Earth and all creation.

This wilderness acts as the main character in the film. Into this wilderness a group of young Zulu women enters on a life-changing journey to experience true wild nature for the first time in their lives.

The young women, mostly from townships and semi-rural communities, aspire to elevate themselves beyond challenging life conditions. They have an interest in nature and a spark of leadership but they lack the opportunity to experience wild nature in their impoverished lives. Accompanied by veteran female wilderness guides, they camp under the stars in big game country, totally surrounded by wild animals such as elephants, rhinos and lions. Exposed to the elements and carrying on their back all they need for the journey, they have to cope with emotional and physical challenges, and learn what it takes to survive in the wild.

A wilderness journey is an intense experience where one can expect to undergo personal transformation. It can enhance personal growth and leadership development; and it is also a soulful experience that has the capacity to heal. The solitary night watch where one is responsible for the entire camp, the solitude contemplation sessions and the possible close encounters with wild animals like a charging rhino, an elephant ambling next to the camp at night, the yellow eyes of a wild cat in the dark of the night, all contribute to enhance one’s sense of connection to nature and encourage self-introspection.

The latter especially occurs whilst one sits around the campfire, listening to the lively Zululand wilderness night, hearing the cough of the leopard, the cry of the hyena or the roar of the lion.

Mentoring the women and initiating them into the wilderness is, KwaMashu born, Lihle Mbokazi, the first black South African woman wilderness guide. Lihle is also deeply interested in reviving indigenous knowledge systems and share the wisdom of the old days with the young women. Along with Lihle we also see Janet and Zondi, the lead wilderness guides, who share nature wisdom with the women.

Long periods of Nature’s ambient sounds help the audience to connect with wilderness and when interweaved with the soulful music of film composer, Ian Arber, transports one into the same inner world of connectivity that nature takes one on.

Link to SistersOfTheWilderness.com for a short trailer.

Despite the tranquil setting, the iMfolozi wilderness is now severely threatened.

An existing open-cast coal mine on the Eastern border of the wilderness is expanding regardless of its devastating impact on the surrounding rural communities and their livestock.

Additionally, a proposed coal mine just 40 metres from the park’s southern boundary threatens to devastate even further this fragile nature gem and the communities.

The park is home to incredibly important populations of both white and black rhino. It is renowned worldwide for being the historical home of the Southern White Rhino, following the successful ‘Operation Rhino’ in the 1960’s driven largely by the park’s then-warden, Ian Player.

Dr. Player’s efforts brought the rhinos back from the brink of extinction. The park now has the largest population of Southern White Rhino in the world.

The success of this program has recently been compromised by a gruesome increase in rhino poaching within the park. This critical threat has not only become a great concern for the park, but for rhino conservationists worldwide.

Link to SaveOurWilderness.org for additional blogs and information about Dr. Player.

Call to action:

At THE CROWD VERSUS we can also use your help. We crowdfund for the litigation pending to stop the permitting of open cast coal mining, or the expansion of older, already present mines (Tendele).

We have several options to create the level of your involvement. You can donate or become personally involved by writing a blog, taking photographs, or entertaining friends with a dinner at home.

We look forward to seeing your ideas!

Environmental Watchdog Challenges Recent South Africa Ruling

29 March 2019; Published by Tony Carnie

An environmental watchdog has challenged a legal decision by a Pietermaritzburg high court judge, fearing that his ruling will encourage mining companies to disregard the country’s environmental protection laws.

The challenge has been mounted by the Cape Town-based Centre for Environmental Rights, after judge Rishi Seegobin dismissed an application in October to shut down the Somkhele coal mine — owned by Johannesburg-based Tendele Mining — on the periphery of the flagship Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal.

The centre has lodged an application to intervene as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) in an application for leave to appeal against Seegobin’s ruling.

The centre, represented by attorney Catherine Horsfield, said it was concerned that the ruling “may open the door” to companies disregarding environmental safeguards in the constitution.

The centre believes the Tendele verdict has broad national implications and could have a “profound influence” on the ability of government inspectors to monitor and enforce environmental laws in mining areas.

It could also provide “an excuse” for companies to operate outside the law and to strip legal powers from government enforcement officers.

The ruling may open the door to companies disregarding environmental safeguards …

The centre also said the judge’s punitive costs order against two community-based environmental groups would have a “chilling” legal effect that could cow other vulnerable people from mounting public-interest litigation against powerful mining companies.

In 2018, the Global Environmental Trust, the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation and local resident Sabelo Dladla launched an interdict application against mine owners Tendele Mining, arguing that the mine was operating illegally.

Represented by attorney Kirsten Youens, they submitted that the Somkhele mine was operating with no environmental authorisation, no municipal planning approval, no waste disposal licence and no permits to shift ancestral graves.

Dladla also alleged in court papers that several homestead structures were cracking because of daily dynamite blasting at the open-pit coal mine, and several of his livestock had died or disappeared after wandering into mining land that had not been fenced off adequately.

Life had changed forever, said Dladla, with many local residents forced to leave their land and homes to make way for mining. They had lost access to grazing for cattle and other natural resources, and were also worried about the risks to their health from polluted air and water.

The mine painted a different story in court papers, denying that its operations were unlawful and arguing that nearly 1,000 mineworkers would lose their jobs if the mine was forced to close.

Seegobin threw out the application, noting that there had been a number of amendments to mining and environmental laws that took effect in 2014. He said these changes to the law also contained transitional provisions which permitted companies to continue existing operations without obtaining fresh environmental authorisation for listed activities.

If the amended laws did not contain these transitional provisions, said Seegobin, previously lawful mining operations would have been rendered illegal, overnight. “This would have been an unreasonable, insensible and un-businesslike result,” he commented.

Seegobin also suggested that senior officials of the departments of mineral resources and environmental affairs would have intervened against Tendele if they believed the mine was operating unlawfully or causing significant pollution or environmental damage.

Horsfield said the centre recognised that judges had discretion to award cost orders, but the National Environmental Management Act included a clause intended to protect people who sought assistance from the court, provided that they were acting reasonably, in the public interest or in the interests of the environment.

During a landmark public interest case involving the Biowatch Trust and the multinational group Monsanto, the Constitutional Court had reaffirmed the principle of not punishing unsuccessful litigants with crippling legal costs, provided their cases were not “frivolous, vexatious or manifestly inappropriate”.

Horsfield also attacked Seegobin’s assertion that government officials would have taken action against Tendele if they believed the company was contravening environmental obligations. There was no basis to assume that government officials were satisfied with, or had even considered the issues taking place at Somkhele mine.

Seegobin’s approach seemed “tantamount to introducing a standard of deference to functionaries” in the mining and environment departments that was not supported by law.

Responding in court papers, Tendele CEO Jan du Preez said his company did not agree with the legal arguments opposing Seegobin’s main ruling, but would not object to the centre being admitted as a friend of the court — provided it did not try to introduce new evidence.

Du Preez said his company would abandon all claims to the money awarded to it by Seegobin for legal costs.

“I hereby confirm that Tendele unconditionally abandons the costs order granted in its favour by this court…. The issue of the costs order granted in Tendele’s favour need accordingly not feature either in the amicus application, or in the application for leave to appeal,” the company said.

Seegobin has yet to make a ruling on whether he will grant leave to appeal.

This article also appeared in Business DayTimes Select on 28 March, 2019; and in SaveOurWilderness.org on 29 March 2019.

The Crowd vs. Destructive Mining in Zululand

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The Crowd vs. Destructive Mining in Zululand

Coal companies and the South African government have to stop with coal mining that puts Zululand and its people in danger and threatens the world’s greatest concentration of rhinos in the wilderness area of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve.  Read more …

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The Crowd Claims

Coal companies and the South African government have to stop with coal mining that puts Zululand and its people in danger and threatens the world’s greatest concentration of rhinos in the wilderness area of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve.

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Save our iMfolozi Wilderness: Application for Leave to Appeal Filed

Posted on December 13, 2018

Media Release:

Application for Leave to Appeal filed – Global Environmental Trust, MCEJO and S Dladla vs. Tendele Coal Mining (PTY) Ltd.

PIETERMARITZBURG, SOUTH AFRICA

On Tuesday, 11 December, 2018, an Application for Leave to Appeal was filed in the Pietermaritzburg High Court in the case between Tendele Coal Mining (PTY) Ltd and the Global Environmental Trust (GET), the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) and a resident of Somkhele, Sabelo Dladla.

Incomprehensive Judgment

This application is in response to the incomprehensible judgment handed down by the Pietermaritzburg High Court on 20 November, 2018, in which the case was dismissed with costs.

Relevant Documents:

Document: Application for leave to Appeal

Judgement by Justice Seegobin 20 November 2018

Documents for the case heard on 24 August 2018

Notice of Motion

Founding Affidavit

Annexures

Support this case.

These Lawyers Stand Up for Your Rights

Posted on December 9, 2018

Lawyers work to protect human and environmental rights all over the world. On December 10 we would like to honor their work and thank four of them. 

On December 10, 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since that date, we celebrate Human Rights Day every year.

This year marks the milestone 70th anniversary of this declaration.

Rights for Every Human Being

The document proclaims the rights to which every human being is entitled. No matter the race, color, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

The recognition of equal rights for all is a precondition for sustainable societies. Equality, justice and freedom prevent violence and sustain peace. Unfortunately, these rights are constantly challenged.

Standing up for our rights, or supporting others in their battles, remains essential; whoever and wherever you are.

On this special 10 December day, we present to you four extraordinary lawyers who stand up for the rights of others. They do this with long hours in cases that can change the historical legal doctrines of corporate interests and governmental policies.

1. Karey Brooks

In Canada, JFK Lawyer Karey Brooks battles in court to stop tarsands mining, to protect the world’s most important carbon sinks, and to hold the Alberta province and Canada accountable for breaking their constitutional promise to the Beaver Lake Cree First Nation.

#TarSandsTrial #cdnpoli

2. Kirsten Youens

Kirsten Youens

In South Africa, Kirsten Youens fights in court to stop the coal mining activities of the South African government that puts Zululand and its people in danger and also threatens the world’s greatest concentration of rhinos in the wilderness area of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve.

#SaveOurWilderness #StopTendele #LawApplies2All

3. Pablo Fajardo Mendoza

Pablo Fajardo

In Ecuador, Pablo Fajardo Mendoza supports the Amazon people in a landmark case to legally force Chevron to create health programs for the 6 indigenous nations and repair their lands, after one of the worst environmental disasters of all times. Pablo received the 2015 Goldman prize in recognition of his long and arduous work and we are honored to help his team.

#StopChevronImpunity #StopCorporateImpunity #ChevronCleanUp

4. René Sánchez Galindo

Rene Sanchez Galindo

In Mexico, Lawyer René Sánchez Galindo fights to stop Monsanto and other multinationals from growing genetically modified or GM corn that will force all farmers to grow GM corn, will harm biodiversity, and ultimately puts Mexican cultural heritage and way of life at risk.

#MxvsGMO #MXSinOGM #KeepMaizeAuthentic

#environmentalrightsarehumanrights

Shock Judgement in Tendele Interdict Application

20 November 2018

The incomprehensible judgement handed down by the Pietermaritzburg High Court this morning, 20 November 2018, dismissed with costs the application by Sabelo Dladla, the Global Environmental Trust (GET) and Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO). This will not go unchallenged.

In essence, the applicants approached the High Court when their attorney found the mine had no environmental authorisations issued by Department of Environmental Affairs (or the Department of Mineral Resources) for the listed activities associated with mining operations. This is particularly concerning given the close proximity of the mining area to the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, and the critical biodiversity of the area that includes hundreds of protected plant species, plus the water scarcity and the thousands of rural farmers living in the area, many of whom have lost their land and their livelihoods to the mine.  Consequently, many Somkhele residents have been left impoverished as a result of the mine operating in Somkhele. This challenges the argument of the court that the mine has brought many benefits, including infrastructure, to the community. The recently conducted Social Labour Plan audit, conducted by ActionAid, was included in the submission to the court, and strongly challenges the narrative that Tendele mine has brought the benefits it purports. Bewilderingly Judge Seegobin does not mention this in his judgement, nor the South African Human Rights report on human rights abuses in Somkhele community nor the psychosocial impact report by Prof. Edelstein.

One of the main arguments by Judge Seegobin is that if the Minister of Mineral Resources was not so satisfied he would not have granted the additional mining rights.  Similarly, the late “Minister of Environmental Affairs would also have had something to say if it was found Tendele was acting unlawfully”. Consequently there were clearly no grounds to challenge the mine’s operations.

The judgement also argues that because the mine initially commenced operations before the implementation of the one mining system, there was no need for the mine to have obtained environmental authorisation and that an EMP is sufficient.

The judgement is extremely punitive in awarding costs when it clear that a mining affected community supported by an NGO brought this application in an effort to ensure that Tendele Mine is compliant, in the public interest.  In the Biowatch case, the Constitutional court ruled that lower courts should embrace the ruling made 8 years ago against punitive cost orders being awarded when challenges were brought against Monsanto a corporation that had unequal power and financial resources.

Kirsten Youens, the attorney for this case, states: “Far from being demoralised, GET and MCEJO see this as an important opportunity to take the matter to higher judicial authorities starting with the Supreme Court and even to the Constitutional Court, if necessary, to ensure justice is done and that law applies to all. They take courage from other mining affected communities, like the Lesetlheng community, who lost their case until eventually receiving a Constitutional Court ruling in their favour, setting important precedents for social and environmental justice for lower courts to follow.  The Tendele case is set to do the same.”

While our lawyers are busy preparing leave to appeal against this judgement, Tendele mine faces another challenge from the community. Last week, Sabelo Dladla and MCEJO filed a Review Application in the North Gauteng High Court to review and set aside the Director-General’s decision to grant Tendele a further 222km2 right to mine. The Application is also to review and set aside the Minister’s decision to dismiss the internal appeal that was brought against the Director General’s decision to grant the mining right.

Letter regarding the proposed Umfolozi bridge to Royal Haskoning DHV

Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, requested a proper Public Participation Process (PPP) regarding the proposed Umfolozi bridge and link roads directly affecting the communities of Fuleni and Somkhele. Here you will find the letter they send: : 170329 – MCEJO letter to RHDHV

Reports are that the uMfolozi Bridge is going to receive approval. It is critically important to stop the construction of this bridge which, undoubtedly, will open up Fuleni to mining and, in all likelihood, allow Tendele and Ibutho Coal to become one operation.