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17 Nov 2021

The Centre for Environmental Rights (South Africa)

S. Africa: Apex Court stops development of new coal mining in a strategic water source area

‘Constitutional Court dismisses coal mining company’s bid to start mining’ 11 November 2021

Civil society coalition welcomes the Constitutional Court decision to dismiss coal mining company Uthaka Energy’s leave to appeal a 2021 High Court interdict, preventing the company from commencing mining in a Strategic Water Source Area. The Constitutional Court’s decision leaves intact a Pretoria High Court interdict granted earlier this year, which prevents Uthaka (formerly called Atha Africa Ventures) from conducting any mining activities for the proposed Yzermyn coal mine near Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga, South Africa. The decision is the latest milestone in a long-running legal battle by a coalition of eight civil society organisations, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), to overturn the approvals given for the mine. At present there are six court challenges pending before the High Court.

…“The Constitutional Court’s decision comes in a week when many world leaders gathered at COP26 committed to accelerate the transition away from coal power generation to avoid catastrophic climate change. That commitment includes refusing permits for new coal-fired power generation projects and promoting investment in and development of clean energy, in a way that benefits workers and communities,” says groundwork director, Bobby Peek. “We welcome the Constitutional Court decision as an important local acknowledgement of the need to pause development of new coal mining, particularly in our strategic water source areas, when the impact of coal mining and burning on global warming is irrefutable. Our focus, particularly here in Africa, needs to be on building our resilience to climate change, not making it worse,” says Peek.

…The proposed coal mine would fall within a Strategic Water Source Area – one of only 22 areas where more than 50% of South Africa’s freshwater originates. Protecting Strategic Water Source Areas is crucial for South Africa’s water security, and its ability to provide water for people, livelihoods and economic activity, particularly in light of the effects of global warming. Until January 2021, the proposed mining area also fell within the Mabola Protected Environment, a protected area declared under the Protected Areas Act in 2014. In January 2021, the Mpumalanga MEC revoked the protected area status to allow the proposed coal mine to proceed in that environment but no longer under that protection. The MEC’s decision is one of those challenged by the Coalition in the High Court. Both the recognition of the area as a Strategic Water Source Area and its declaration as a protected area were the result of more than a decade of government supported and funded research and planning by the Department of Water and Sanitation, the Department of Environmental Affairs, and a number of government agencies like the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), the Mpumalanga Tourism & Parks Agency, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Water Research Commission.