Pretoria – Farmers and residents of Bronkhorstspruit have decided to fight back against a mining company which wants to start an open-pit coal mine bigger than 1 000 rugby fields in the Wilge River catchment area right outside the town.
Annemie Duvenhage of the Bronkhorstspruit and Wilge River Conservation Area said on Monday that the residents of the town are heavily opposed to Muhanga Mines, which wants to mine coal on farming land on the riverbanks of the Bronkhorstspruit stream.
Farmers right next to the proposed mine and further south along the Wilge River, irrigate vegetables for retail giants like McCains and Woolworths.
Duvenhage said on Facebook if Muhanga Mines were allowed to mine in this ecologically sensitive area, 21 natural springs would either dry up or be polluted with acidic mine water.
“It will ruin the whole area.”
Elsabe Bosch, manager at Ezemvelo, a nature reserve that used to belong to the mine magnate Nicky Oppenheimer and his wife, Strilli, said on Monday the ecology in this sensitive area was threatened by the planned coal mine.
Bosch said the Wilge River was relatively clean at the moment, but that there were no fish eagles left in the area due to an incident about two years ago when the river was seriously polluted by factories dumping waste water in the river.
“We can’t now allow a coal mine here. It will ruin our water.”
According to Muhanga’s environmental impact assessment, the group received permission to mine for coal from the Department of Mining in August, and want to start mining next year.
They will invest R75m in the mine, which will apparently mean an “economic injection” in the area. The lifespan of the mine is estimated to be between five and nine years. Muhanga intends in this time to extract 16 million tons of coal.
The mining group also promised to employ at least 110 people, all local residents.
Carol Wentzel, also from the conservation area, said she was worried about the 190 primary school children who would be exposed to toxic fumes from the mine on a daily basis.
“They will get lung diseases and some of their basic human rights will be taken away.” The proposed mine would be about 800m downwind from the Lucky Primary School.
According to a report by an independent environmental expert, who commented on Muhanga’s study, the mining group should “think carefully” before continuing with their plans as only a partial rehabilitation of the area after mining would cost at least R500m. No area can ever be completely rehabilitated after mining.
Farmers in the area say they won’t allow Muhanga to mine in Bronkhorstspruit as it will take away their right to existence, threaten food security in the country and pose huge risks for the heavily polluted Loskop Dam, downstream from the Bronkhorstspruit and Wilge River.
Jaco Kleynhans, Muhanga’s environmental consultant, said the mining group was busy with water studies, among others, in the area.
“It is too early to draw conclusions,” he said.