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Breaking news: Mining company director convicted of environmental offences, suspended sentence linked to cleanup

4 February 2014 at 9:37 am

Soil erosion caused by clay mining at Tlhabine, near Tzaneen in Limpopo (Photo: M Kapa)
Soil erosion caused by clay mining at Tlhabine, near Tzaneen in Limpopo (Photo: M Kapa)

On Friday, 31 January 2014, the Naphuno Regional Court in Limpopo sentenced Matome Maponya, the managing director of a clay mining company based in Tzaneen, to five years in prison for causing damage to the environment. Mr Maponya’s sentence was suspended for 5 years, on condition that the damage done by the mining operations be rehabilitated within 3 months.

The Centre for Environmental Rights believes this to be the first case where a sentence of direct imprisonment has been imposed on the director of a licensed mining company for mining-related environmental offences, without the option of a fine.

Blue Platinum Ventures 16 Pty Ltd has been mining clay outside the village of Tlhabine in Limpopo since 2007, causing widespread environmental degradation through its activities. Blue Platinum has undertaken none of the rehabilitation measures required by mining and environmental laws. The cost of rehabilitating the damage caused has been estimated at approximately R6.8 million.

The Batlhabine community, plagued by the environmental degradation caused by Blue Platinum’s mining operations, spent several years trying to persuade the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) to take action against Blue Platinum. When Blue Platinum’s activities continued unabated, the community laid criminal charges against the company and its directors with the assistance of attorneys from the Centre for Environmental Rights. Faced with evidence presented by the community and expert reports commissioned by the Centre for Environmental Rights, both Blue Platinum and its managing director pleaded guilty to contravention of section 24F of the National Environmental Management Act (Nema). Blue Platinum, Mr Maponya and five other directors had been charged with a long list of offences under Nema, the National Water Act and the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act.

CER attorney Tracey Davies: “The outcome of this case is a victory for the Batlhabine community, and we commend the National Prosecuting Authority for seeing this case through to a conviction and this precedent-setting sentence. As with all other criminal prosecutions for environmental offences in the mining industry that we’ve seen in recent years, it is unfortunate that the charges against Blue Platinum had to be brought to the National Prosecuting Authority by the affected community, when the DMR is the national department mandated with enforcing environmental obligations under mining laws.

CER executive director Melissa Fourie: “It is important for other directors in the mining industry to note that Mr Maponya was not given the option of a fine, and his suspended sentence is linked directly to fix the damage caused. The time has come for greater accountability for environmental damage in the mining sector: not only by mining companies themselves for the devastating effects of their environmental violations, but also by the office-bearers who make the decisions that cause such damage.

Batlhabine Foundation (non-profit community organisation that led this complaint) represented by Mashile Phalane: “We are very happy about the outcome of this case and we will be closely monitoring Mr Maponya’s compliance with the court’s order to rehabilitate the damaged areas.

Download the sentencing judgment.

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