Words by Miles Masterson and Steve Pike.
Image showing damage to the West Coast north of the Olifants River estuary caused by previous diamond mining operations (before Trans Hex). Photo: John Yeld.
In a crucial victory for the future of the Olifants River Estuary and surrounding communities, an out-of-court agreement has been struck with mining company Trans Hex. A last-minute order of the court just prior to an interdict being heard in the Cape Town High Court yesterday (Tuesday 29 August) has been made that represents a hard fought settlement between the company and Protect The West Coast (PTWC), with co-applicants the small-scale fishing communities of the Olifants River and Doringbaai, as well as individuals Preston Goliath and Fabian Mohammed. The agreement secures no-go mining areas around the Olifants River Estuary, including the shoreline and beach, and offshore to a distance of 500m from the high tide mark. This no-go area is 300m of coast north and 2.5km of coast south of the estuary - a total of 2.8km. The other no-go areas are for land-based mining: 11km of coastline from the Olifants River to Strandfontein; 1.8km of beach between De Toring and Skuit Bay, and at Duiwegat, which is about 200m of coastline. A key to laying a platform for future compliance, Trans Hex is also required to apply for an upgraded Environmental Management Programme (EMPr) within six months to the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE). The original interdict was brought against them for gaining permission to mine for a further 30 years based on an outdated EMPr from 2002 that ignored up-to-date environmental science, socioeconomic developments, and the value of the Olifants Estuary as a mainstay for livelihoods.
Trans Hex is also ordered to separately identify the impacts and mitigation measures required in respect of beach, shore-based and vessel-based mining in all its operations. The mining company must consult communities as part of its public participation commitment as part of the upgrade to the EMPr as well as consider cumulative impacts, and undertake specialist studies that relate directly to small scale fisheries. PTWC has also secured four on-site inspections of mining operations a year by specialists representing PTWC and its co-applicants to embed oversight of these mining activities into the agreement. “While this outcome is certainly a victory, it is just one small battle won in the ongoing war against inadequately regulated mining in the region. There is still much work to be done and the fight against unlawful mining on the West Coast is far from over,” said PTWC MD, Mike Schlebach.
The agreement reached is a major victory for PTWC in the ongoing battle to hold mining companies to account, and to mitigate against the persistent failures by the DMRE to ensure mining activities take place within the bounds of the law, in what is an already severely socio economically challenged part of the country with an incredibly sensitive and biodiverse environment that is relied upon by the communities for their livelihoods.
As a result of the agreement, the future of one of South Africa’s most biodiverse and fragile ecosystems, the fortunes of local fishermen, and tourism prospects has been secured.
The Olifants River estuary in all its glory. Finally protected from mining.
PTWC hopes this result will serve as an example of what can be achieved by civil society when collective efforts are focused on issues, and act as a caution for other companies aiming to mine in the region, and elsewhere, without proper environmental assessments, public participation processes and updated EMPrs and other environmental authorisations.
As an order of the court, the agreement is binding. Trans Hex can be held accountable should they fail to adhere to what has been agreed.
“While this outcome is certainly a victory,” said PTWC MD Mike Schlebach, “it is just one small battle won in the ongoing war against inadequately regulated mining in the region. There is still much work to be done and the fight against unlawful mining on the West Coast is far from over. But this victory has shown us what is possible in our mission to Protect The West Coast on behalf of its communities, and voiceless natural spaces, flora and fauna.”
You can view the full agreement below:
PTWC would like to thank all our co-applicants, our legal team, donors, partners, experts, media and supporters for their ongoing support of our cause. Every donation, word of support, share on social media and contribution helps.
Donate here: https://www.protectthewestcoast.org/donate