More hearings on Xolobeni mine scheduled for Feb

By: Christy van der Merwe

26th January 2011

JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – A second task team would be established to hear oral presentations by parties affected by the proposed heavy minerals mine in Xolobeni, which is located on the South African Wild Coast.

The hearings would be held at the Department of Mineral Resources’ (DMR’s) Durban regional office from February 16 to February 18.

The task team would then make recommendations to Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu, on whether or not to uphold the granting of the licence to mine the Kwanyana block of mineral-rich sands near Xolobeni, or to rescind the licence – as per the appeal from certain community members.

Australia-based Mineral Resource Commodities, through its South African subsidiary Transworld Energy & Minerals, was granted a licence to mine for titanium-bearing minerals on a portion of the dunes, in December 2008.

The Kwanyana block contains some 139-million tons of heavy titanium-producing minerals, including ilmenite, zircon, leucoxene, and rutile. Of the four blocks making up the Xolobeni project area, the Kwanyana block had the largest measured resource.

The Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) then appealed the awarding of the licence in early 2009, stating that the community was not properly consulted.

In February 2010, the Minerals and Mining Development board, which advises the Minister of Mineral Resources, appointed a committee headed by Phatekile Holomisa, which received documentation from affected parties, and compiled a report, which it submitted to the Minister.

No further information was given about the report, affected parties requested sight of it but have never seen it.

The DMR, in January, stated that the Holomisa report was merely an interim report, which did not contain any firm recommendations on the merit or demerit of the appeals.

It was described as an “interim measure that addressed procedure rather than substance”, and recommended that other stakeholders be afforded the opportunity to provide input to a panel to finalise the appeal.

“Our clients are extremely concerned that it has taken almost a year from the time the Holomisa task team made its recommendations to the Minister for her to come to a decision, and then only to decide to hold further hearings. The panel that is to hear the matter has still not been constituted and the Minister appears not to have applied her mind to the appeal at all,” said Legal Resources Centre (LRC) representative Sarah Sephton.

The Grahamstown-based LRC is representing the ACC.

The DMR was currently in the process of inviting nominations for new panel members, and the panel would be headed by the DMR legal services director, as the chairperson.

The panel would consist of: an environmental expert nominated by the DMR, a nominated official from the DMR Mineral Regulation branch, an environmental expert nominated by the Department of Environmental Affairs, a representative nominated by the Department of Land Affairs, a representative nominated by the Provincial Department of Economic Affairs, Eastern Cape, a representative nominated by the OR Tambo district municipality, and a representative nominated by the Bizana municipality.

MRC South Africa GM John Barnes confirmed that the company had been informed of the new hearings through a letter from the DMR, and also that the company had not been informed of any recommendations put forward in the first report.

Barnes added that while the company awaited the DMR decision on the granting of the Xolobeni licence, it was moving ahead with its Tormin mineral sands project on the west coast of South Africa.

Sephton stated that the delays were prejudicial to the LRC’s clients.

“In the meantime, our clients are still unable to make any use of the land in question. Prior to the grant of the prospecting licence, an important eco-tourism project was under way in the Xolobeni area. Since then, however, all efforts to further this project have been unsuccessful and our clients have suffered important financial losses as a result,” she explained.

She added that the harmony within the community has also suffered as conflicts have emerged between the proponents of the mining initiative and those who favour the eco-tourism plan as a means to develop the region.

“There can be no healing until a final decision is made. These lengthy and unexplained delays have marked this entire process and are quite frankly ludicrous,” Sephton exclaimed.

Posted on January 31st, 2011

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