Anger at mining project

By Zama Ngcoya

Melmoth residents fear their livelihoods may be threatened by iron ore mining which is expected to take place there.

International mining giant Jindal Steel and Power and its black economic empowerment partner Thabang Khomo are awaiting permission from the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy to begin the mining project 25km south-east of Melmoth.

Its implementation will see more than 300 families being moved from the area. However, community members have expressed their disapproval. Stacy Spilsbury, a member of the affected community, said this was not only a farming or agricultural concern but also an attack on them.

She said the idea of being displaced or resettled was worrying.

“We are not happy with this and, as a result, we have come together to voice our concern about what is happening. It seems like it is all just going to go ahead, whether we like it or not, even though our lives would be affected by this. We do not want to move,” she said.

Spilsbury said although she understood that mining was important, she preferred that the company found other locations to undertake their project, ideally in an area that was not highly populated, with enough water supply.

Community activist Mbhekiseni Ndlovu, a co-ordinator for the Alliance of Rural Democracy, a movement that fights for the rights of rural people, said the mining issue was a problematic one which they have attempted to fight off for over a decade.

“When they began conducting their research, people’s livestock died in the process, crops were destroyed, and some graves were damaged. They began this process back in 2011, and it seemed like it had halted due to communities protesting against it. But now it appears that they have returned to pick up where they left off, and their representatives are not holding meetings with us to inform us of what exactly is going on,” he said.

Ndlovu said this would result in schools having to close down, additional strain on their current water crisis, which was likely to worsen due to drought and displacement of families.

“Yes, we love development, especially if it is in the form of job opportunities and tourism, but not in the form of a whole mine, especially because they will come with their own workforce,” he said.

MPL Heinz de Boer, the DA KZN spokesperson on economic development, tourism and environmental affairs, said the operation had raised serious concerns among the locals also because it would be developed on the Ingonyama Trust land, which had led to tensions over who may benefit from the mining.

He said that it was also concerning that the KZN cabinet was not aware of the project and that, while job creation was supported, it should not be at the expense of uprooting communities.

“That KZN’s ANC-run government is not aware of mining projects that could possibly displace hundreds of families is typical of the nonchalant style of governance our citizens have been subject to,” said De Boer.

The company responsible for the Melmoth Iron Ore Project (MIOP) said it was a matter of time before it knew whether it would be successful.

Responding on behalf of Jindal Steel and Power and Thabang Khomoon, project manager Shaitan Chouhan said the areas of interest, within the Mthonjaneni local municipality contained iron mineralisation within the geological structures and had been investigated by Premier Zululand Zinc in 1908, Union Carbide Prospecting SA in 1969 and Iscor in the 1980s.

The investigations indicated that iron was present as magnetite, a magnetically recoverable mineral of high iron content, and as amphibole grunerite, a mineral of low iron content that is not recoverable, Chouhan said.

The early investigations had not resulted in project development because the magnetite content was too low to compete with the more attractive hematite iron mineralisation in the Northern Cape, he added.

In 2012 Jindal commenced the following work programme which was completed by 2016:

– An airborne geophysical survey of the North and South blocks

– A lidar topographic survey

– Regional and local geological mapping

– The identification of a priority area (the South-East)

– An extensive diamond drilling (89 holes) and more limited (seven holes) reverse circulation (RC) programme in the South-East

– A regional drilling programme of 34 diamond holes in the remainder of the South Block

– An in-house scoping study, focused on the South-East area of the South Block

– An environmental/social impact assessment

– A pre-feasibility study focused on the South-East area of the South Block.

Chouhan said the benefits of the project for the company would be the supply of iron ore concentrate to Jindal’s international steel-making businesses.

The MIOP would also have economic and social benefits for community members.

These included direct and indirect employment opportunities for host communities, the creation of procurement opportunities for small, micro and medium enterprises, the support of local economic development projects by MIOP and additional income streams from mining royalties, taxes, permits and fees for provincial and local municipalities. Responding to the concerns raised by community members, including the displacements, exhumation of graves placements, exhumation of graves, illnesses and shortages of water and clarity on compensation, Chouhan said the company had appointed an independent specialist firm, SLR Consulting, to undertake the environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) study.

He said the specialist studies were under way and would be completed this year. “The company is concerned about all potentially negative impacts the project may have on the environment and the social fabric of the area and is hopeful that the independent specialist consultants will identify mitigating measures that will ameliorate potentially negative impacts to the satisfaction of all stakeholders thereby ensuring MIOP’s commit to responsible mining,” he said.

The company said that it had not acquired any land in the area, but held the exploration permits for the concession areas and was in the process of undertaking environmental authorisation to acquire a mining licence.

“Through the ESIA, MIOP is in the process of engaging with traditional leaders, communities, and landowners that reside within the proposed mine lease area and including those neighbouring the proposed mine lease area.

This includes understanding their concerns about the potential impacts of the MIOP, and ensuring that the ESIA studies identify measures able to mitigate these impacts,” Chouhan said.

Vela Mngwengwe, head of the secretariat of the Ingonyama Trust Board, said it was aware of the proposed project by Jindal, but had not taken a position, since the process had not yet reached a stage where any form of land right was being sought from the trust.

“Regarding the prospect of the Ingonyama Trust granting a land right, this will largely be informed by the outcome of the specialist studies being conducted and the consultation with the affected communities,” he said.

The provincial department of economic development, tourism and environmental affairs as well as the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy could not be reached for comment.

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