In South Africa, pristine beaches have been nibbled at by mining interests
Wild beaches, shells and pink flamingos: this pristine stretch of South Africa’s coast is the subject of a numb battle between environmentalists and lovers of their corner against a voracious mining industry.
Around the mouth of the Olifant River, which flows into the Atlantic about 300 km north of Cape Town, diamonds and heavy minerals such as zircon have been mined for decades. But locals to the sparsely populated area, like the surfers and campers who appreciate it, are panicking at its growing expanse.
“This end of the world is one of the last places in South Africa where you can get lost,” breathes Mike Schlebach, 45, avid surfer and co-founder of environmental organization Protect the West Coast, which works with others to protect, with government and before Court.
They’ve been heartbroken and holding their breath lately: the existing Tormin mine, operated by Australian company Minerals Commodities, has won the government to expand its operations to ten more beaches.
In June, the Center for Environmental Rights (CER) won a court order to introduce stricter environmental controls. But according to the association’s lawyer, Zahra Omar, the company is already asking for a deadline for submitting its biodiversity management plan.
“We can go back to court if the mine doesn’t comply,” she warns.
Mine lawyer Fletcher Hancock emailed AFP that “the company is committed to improving the social and economic situation of ‘affected’ South Africans and to pursuing its sustainable and environmentally responsible approach,” without going into detail walk.
The Ministry of the Environment does not want to comment on the approved mining expansion and its possible environmental impact. He refers AFP to the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), which acknowledges receipt of the questions but does not respond further.
– Ruined Sunset –
Mr Omar points out that while South Africa has tough environmental laws, the DMRE, which oversees mining activities, has a conflicting mandate: to boost economic activity while enforcing those laws.
“Therefore, unfortunately, the responsibility lies with organizations like the ERC to ensure that our environment is protected,” she says.
Residents near the estuary fear promises to mitigate damage will not be kept. And there are already dozens of other claims filed by other mining companies.
“If there is mining at sea, on the beach or on land, what access do we have to the shore?” asks activist Suzanne Du Plessis, 61. “It would be catastrophic for us and even more so for nature, which has no voice.”
The presence of the mines can already be seen in the accumulations of silt and sand at the mouth of the estuary, she said.
In Doringbaai, a few kilometers away, a once-wild beach where people strolled at sunset, lulled by the surf, has been destroyed by heavy mining machinery.
The village of 1,200 was stunned at the beginning of the year, says Peter Owies, 54. “There was no advance notice to tell us, ‘Listen, we intend to build mines here. So it was a shock.’
An online consultation was organized, says Suzanne Du Plessis, but a physical meeting never materialized.
Everything has changed for the hundred or so small fishermen in the area.
“Because they pumped for diamonds, the fish moved away and our richest shoal is now empty,” says Preston Goliath, 46. The mines “want to empty the South African coast and leave us in poverty,” he accuses.
Mining company Trans Hex, which has held rights to the property for 60 years since 1991, says it has implemented environmental, social and housing programs.
But a growing number of local activists are calling for a halt to mining activities so the government can assess the cumulative impact of mines on ecology and activity and consider alternative investments.
“There are a whole range of new industries that could have a positive impact, such as algae farming,” suggests Mike Schlebach. “We have to show them that there are much better things to do.”
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