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Minister says project may harm Conservation and Tourism

From the Daily Dispatch (12 Oct 2007)

By PIET VAN NIEKERK

THE local subsidiary of an Australian company which plans to mine dunes along the pristine Wild Coast, has asked for an urgent meeting with Environmental Affairs Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk to discuss his perceived “negative stance” regarding the project.

The request for the meeting comes after Van Schalkwyk told Parliament the proposed mining could affect current eco-tourism activities in the area, as well as conservation initiatives.

The minister, answering questions in Parliament last month, said that mining the 22-kilometre strip at Xolobeni, south of Port Edward, could transform the area which is a significantly threatened asset.

He further said this is an area “which is globally recognised but had a rapidly degrading biodiversity”.

“It is recognised as one of the country’s priority areas for bio-diversity conservation and sustainable development. It is also internationally recognised as a global biodiversity hotspot: The Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany hotspot.

“This hotspot, which stretches along the east coast of southern Africa below the Great Escarpment, is an important centre of plant endemism,” Van Schalkwyk warned.

John Barnes, CEO of Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources (TEMR), responded to the minister’s statements by requesting a meeting with both Van Schalkwyk and the DA to discuss the proposed mining operation.

Earlier, the DA’s spokesperson on environmental affairs, Gareth Morgan, had welcomed Van Schalkwyk’s admission that the proposed Wild Coast mining activities could have a detrimental affect on conservation and tourism.

TEMR, a subsidiary of an Australian mining company Mining Commodities Limited, has the right to prospect for for heavy minerals such as ilmenite (iron Titanium oxide), zirconium crystals, rutile (Titanium dioxide) and leucoxene (granular Titanium) in the area. They acquired the rights to the mining operations in March 2005 for a five-year period.

An empowerment company representing the Amadiba community has a 26 percent stake in the entire project. This was acquired through a group of local registered stakeholder trusts, Xolobeni Empowerment (XolCo). The latest development comes less than two weeks before the findings of an independent environmental impact assessment of the proposed mining activities by Groundwater Consulting Services (GCS), are made available. The findings are due to be published for the benefit of public hearings on October 23. According to GCS’s environmental scoping report, heavy mineral deposits exist in sand and iron-rich “red beds” on that part of the Wild Coast.

The deposits were formed around one million years ago when the sea was 120 metres above its current level. As the sea regressed it left the heavy minerals in “strandlines” which were re-worked by further erosion and concentrated in the sand dunes.

“Approximately 65 percent of the heavy minerals are commercially valuable. Occurring over a strike length of 22km, the deposit averages 1.5km in width and has a maximum thickness of 50m,” the report states.

The method of mining, if approved by the Department of Minerals and Energy, will be dry mining with scrapers to excavate sand.

The valuable heavy minerals are separated from the sand and clay by gravity separation, after being stockpiled by front-end loaders, in the wet concentrating plant.

The DA warned that the OR Tambo District Municipality – in which this section of the Wild Coast is situated – has a poverty level of 82 percent. Government officials could be tempted into short-term and unsustainable solutions like mining, it added.

Van Schalkwyk said yesterday he was still awaiting the official request to meet with the company officials.

http://www.dispatch.co.za/2007/10/12/Easterncape/coast.html

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