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The KwaZulu-Natal provincial government has given the final go-ahead for sand mining in the only protected river estuary on the South Coast, despite strong opposition from the provincial nature conservation agency and a coastal watchdog group.
The decision to allow sand mining in the Mpenjati River estuary, near San Lameer, was confirmed in two written rulings by Mike Mabuyakhulu, the provincial MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, late last week.
While Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has not commented on the latest decision, Coastwatch’s chairwoman, Di Dold, expressed her disappointment.
‘If our environment branch cares so little for an estuary which is in a protected area, then what hope do we have to safeguard our other estuaries and our natural areas?
‘The powers that be simply don’t understand the free goods and services we get from our environment and they will only understand these things when we (the taxpayers) are having to pay extensively to try to repair the damage they are giving the green light to at the moment.’
Although the sand-mining project is located about 840m upstream of the official boundary line of the Mpenjati Nature Reserve, river experts say it still falls within what ecologists would regard as the functional area of the estuary.
The initial decision to allow Herman Pretorius of Joymac Sand Sales to mine up to 20 tons of sand a day from the banks of the Mpenjati was taken last May by Mabuyakhulu’s department, formerly known as the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs.
This followed a Basic Assessment Report by environmental consultants appointed by Joymac. A basic assessment is a shorter and less comprehensive process than a full environmental impact assessment.
Ezemvelo and Coastwatch both lodged formal appeal notices against the authorisation. In its appeal, Ezemvelo argued that mining should not be allowed in an estuary that formed part of the Mpenjati Nature Reserve, especially as no proper studies had been done to analyse the total volume of sand and sediments available in the river.
It suggested that the department had compromised the spirit of co-operative governance and failed to properly consider the negative cumulative impacts of sand mining in a sensitive estuary and the adjoining Trafalgar Marine Protected Area.
Mabuyakhulu voiced concern that there appeared to be ‘a significant challenge’ in the co-operative governance relationship between Ezemvelo and his department, and said that Ezemvelo should avoid becoming involved in legal proceedings with another state organ.
Nevertheless, he believed the negative impacts of sand-mining on the estuary could be mitigated or avoided because the mining was ‘small scale’ and that previous mining operations by Joymac in the same area over previous decades had led to ‘a limited negative impact’ on the estuary.
He also rejected separate, but similar, concerns by Coastwatch and noted that Pretorius had stopped mining in 2005 when his permit had expired. This was an indication that he wished to abide by the law.
‘Those members of the public who engage in mining activities in compliance with the law must not be punished. Rather, they must be encouraged to remain in compliance with the law and must be engaged by environmental authorities and non-governmental organisations as partners in the quest for sustainable development.’