Selling our environment downstream – who really benefits?

Right to prospect apparently granted

On 1 July 2011 the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) apparently granted Bongani Minerals a right to prospect for tungsten in the Moutonshoek Valley, the major catchment of the Verlorenvlei, a RAMSAR site (yet unprotected).

“We don’t even know if this is true,” said Dr Bennie van der Merwe, Chairperson of the Verlorenvlei Coalition.

Verlorenvlei Coalition comments

The Verlorenvlei Coalition stated that the Department has made a grave error in awarding the licence to Bongani Minerals, a company which in the interim has been intimately linked to officials within the DMR.

Appeal process

Landowners and the Verlorenvlei Coalition will now lodge an appeal against the prospecting approval with the Minister, Ms Susan Shabangu.

Unviable mining process will endanger ground and surface water

The disputed mineral deposit, Riviera Tungsten, is a belt of low grade and widely dispersed tungsten ore in the Moutonshoek Valley. Mining the ore would pose a serious threat to precious water resources, as it would require blasting through the Krom Antonies River on the surface and two vital, fragile aquifers.

Verlorenvlei Coalition denied access to RMDEC

The Verlorenvlei Coalition was denied the opportunity to also present its objections (as supplied to the DMR) to a RMDEC committee – made up of officials from Water Affairs, Agriculture and Cape Nature and chaired by the Regional Manager of the DMR – which could inform the final recommendation to the Minister. Included would have been respected mining geologist and Coalition member Dr Herman Grütter’s findings as to the lack of financial and geological viability of prospecting (and mining) Riviera Tungsten.

2009 application to mine withdrawn due to environmental concerns

In May this year Mr Bheki Khumalo, DMR spokesperson, went on record saying the DMR in 2009 withdrew the mineral rights [to mine the ore deposit and brought by the same applicant] ‘due to environmental concerns’.

When applications were lodged to prospect in the Cape Winelands, Former Director General of the DMR, Adv Sandile Nogxina, said an application to mine land under agricultural production would never be granted as the government had to balance the interests of the exploitation of mineral resources with food security.

The granting of this prospecting licence is in flagrant disregard for this policy stance.

Irregular procedures

In 2010 the Regional Manager of the DMR in the Western Cape, Mr Sivuyile Mpakane, attempted to convene a meeting between Bongani Minerals and the affected landowners to discuss ‘the way forward’ in terms of ‘recommendations for a revised prospecting plan’.  As the outcome of the application had not at that stage been finalised this looked like a thinly veiled attempt to push through the application.

Access to the minutes of a RMDEC meeting held on 28 July 2010 to discuss the terms of this application have been denied to landowners and the Verlorenvlei Coalition and the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER).

Application history

In 2005 Bongani Mineral’s first application to prospect was refused on grounds of potential for pollution. In 2006 Bongani again brought an application to prospect – the licence was granted but was challenged by a judicial review brought on procedural grounds. This right lapsed before the review could go ahead but not before Bongani Minerals lodged a premature mining right application in 2009, based on the technicality that they still owned the prospecting right for Riviera Tungsten.

The acting Regional Manager who presided over this application at the time, Ms Duduzile Sibongile Kunene, was the girlfriend of one of the directors of Bongani Minerals, Mr Phemelo Sehunelo.