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Media Release: Save Mapungubwe Coalition calls the biodiversity offset agreement for Vele colliery “vague, inadequate and unenforceable”

30 October 2014 at 11:44 am

Photo: Michael Raimondo
Photo: Michael Raimondo
Photo: Michael Raimondo

Photo: Michael Raimondo


The Save Mapungubwe Coalition raises serious concerns with the offset agreement, and requests public access to finalised annexures

On 8 October 2014, after several postponed signing ceremonies, Coal of Africa (CoAL), the Department of Environmental Affairs and SANParks signed a biodiversity offset agreement for CoAL’s Vele Colliery mine near the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site. The conclusion of this agreement  within six months is a condition of the authorisation given to the mining company in July 2011 to continue certain activities which it first began at the Vele Colliery without permission in 2010.

Nothwithstanding the timeframe specified in the licence, and repeated requests from the Save Mapungubwe Coalition regarding the status of the agreement, it has taken more than three years to conclude. To our knowledge, no opportunities have been provided to any interested and affected parties to provide input into this agreement.

Moreover, the agreement eventually signed on 8 October 2014 is vague, inadequate and largely unenforceable. The content of the mining company’s strategy for restoring the environment, as well as timelines for the various offset projects, have not been included. These details are contained in two annexures to the agreement, neither of which have been made available. The agreement does not appear to provide for any actual offset but rather a payment to SANParks. The primary purpose of the condition requiring the offset agreement was to increase the conservation area of the Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site (Clause 29 and 29.1 in the Section 24G Authorisation dated 5 July 2011). No mention is made in the agreement of any increase in the conservation area.

The Save Mapungubwe Coalition  is concerned about:

  1. the extraordinary delay in finalising this agreement in accordance with the licence condition;
  2. the exclusion of all interested and affected parties from the development of the agreement contrary to the licence conditions;
  3. The failure to include the increase in the conservation area of the Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site as an objective of the agreement;
  4. the possible dangerous precedent set by the lack of clarity of the offset created by this agreement. The offset agreement is an important tool for ensuring that CoAL restores all of the ecosystems that have been depleted as a result of their mining activities; and
  5. the relatively low value of the offset. R55 million in five equal instalments over 25 years (according to media reports) is not substantial in 2038 terms.

The agreement terminates at the end of the “Life of Mine”, a term that is not defined, and which may mean “when CoAL decides to close the mine”. It is not clear what impact that would have on any funds still unpaid at that point.

“The offsets agreement is vital to protecting the integrity of Mapungubwe and keeping the impacts of open-cast coal mining on the area to a minimum,” said Robert Krause, researcher at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies which represents the Save Mapungubwe Coalition. “Given the push to accelerate mining in Limpopo, these measures will become increasingly important in safeguarding the archaeological heritage and unique physical environment of this region.”

“Given CoAL’s well-publicised financial constraints, it is also not clear how payment of the instalments will be guaranteed, and how the DEA and SANParks will compel payment should CoAL fail to perform under the agreement,” said Melissa Fourie, executive director of the Centre for Environmental Rights.

The Save Mapungubwe Coalition – which consists of  the Mapungubwe Action Group (MAG), Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), Association of Southern African Professional Archaeologists (ASAPA), the World Wide Fund For Nature South Africa (WWF SA), BirdLife South Africa (BLSA) and the Wilderness Foundation South Africa (WFSA) –  is calling for the finalisation of all annexures to the biodiversity offset agreement and public access to these documents. The Coalition is represented by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies and the Centre for Environmental Rights.

For inquiries, please contact:

Yolan Friedmann – CEO: Endangered Wildlife Trust [email protected] 011 372 3600

Simon Gear – Policy and Advocacy Manager: BirdLife South Africa [email protected] 011 789 1122/ 0860 BIRDER

Dean Muruven – Water Source Areas Manager: WWF South Africa [email protected] 011 447 1213

Melissa Fourie – Executive Director: Centre for Environmental Rights [email protected] 021 447 1647