The costs and benefits of open cast dune mining

According to an article written by Mariaan Olivier (13 Apr 07), local communities around Australian miner Mineral Resource Commodities’ (MRC’s) proposed opencast dune-mining area, on the Wild Coast, have filed a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission, a social worker working with the affected mining communities said on Friday.

John Clark said in a telephone interview that the communities, represented by human rights attorney Richard Spoor, last week filed their complaint with the Human Rights Commission.

The complaint had been lodged on the basis of violating the right to information relevant to the exercise or protection of rights and the right to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations.
He claimed that the right to access of information was violated as local people were prevented from speaking to journalists and because the directors of the empowerment company, that had been drawn from the community, were left in the dark.

The Human Rights Commission complaint department’s Walter Nene confirmed on Friday that a complaint had been received on April 4 and that it had been transferred to its Eastern Cape branch.

This follows hot on the heels of the junior miner applying to the South African government for a licence to mine the Xolobeni mineral sands deposit, located about 300 km north of East London, in the Eastern Cape.

Early this month, MRC and local partners Transworld Energy & Mineral Resources and black economic-empowerment partner, the Xolobeni community empowerment company, lodged their mining right application, hoping to develop an ilmenite mine, which would be sustainable for the next 25 years.

Ilmenite – a titanium-bearing mineral - is smelted to produce titania slag and high-quality pig iron. Titanium is an important metal for engineering applications, and used in, for example, aircraft engines and frames, and for pipes in the nuclear and chemical industries where corrosion is likely to occur.

The Xolobeni mining project has been caught up in a wrangle between several environmental groups and the Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) over the environmental sensitivity of the area. The DME is, however, arguing that mining would create jobs in the area, which is home for the Xhosa-speaking Amidaba tribal community, the traditonal landowners.

MRC said previously that the proposed mining and downstream operations would create some 557 jobs over the 20-odd-year life-of-mine with the construction phase providing an intensive period of economic activity over the short term, prior to mining.

Clark, and other environmental groups, argued that a mine would, in the long-term, destroy the eco-tourism industry along the Pondoland Wild Coast and that mining in the area would damage the biodiversity of the area.

He said that, following the completion of the Human Rights Commission investigation, the communities were prepared to take the case to the Supreme Court of South Africa.

“This could become the test case for environmental rights in the country, unless the DME stop the application,” he said.

Sustaining the Wild Coast (SWC), an environmental group, said earlier this month that the South African government would be held accountable for the possible extinction of at least 196 plant species if it allowed mining in the area.

“It is inconceivable that, in the current international climate where species are disappearing at an unprecedented rate, the South African government could even entertain thoughts of allowing opencast dune mining in an area as biologically valuable and fragile as the Pondoland Centre of Endemism,” SWC spokesperson Val Payn said, adding that the State would, by implication, smother the aspirations of the local communities who base their future on tourism development.


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