New tungsten mining threat in the pristine mountains of Moutonshoek near Piketberg

Time is running out to stop another potential threat to the West Coast area, this time by a company that has applied to mine heavy minerals

Words by Miles Masterson.

An example of a mountain excavation. Photo by Vlad Chețan.

Time is running out to stop another potential threat to the West Coast region, this time by a company that has applied to mine heavy minerals such as tungsten and molybdenum in the Moutonshoek catchment region near Piketberg in the Western Cape.

Aside from the opencast mining application, Bongani Minerals Pty Ltd has applied for an environmental authorisation and a waste licence to mine tungsten, molybdenum, rare earths, copper, zinc, gold, silver, tin, aggregate and sand from a 531 hectare area across two portions of the farm Namaquasfontein 76 RD.

In keeping with the speed and scary regularity of these applications, Protect the West Coast (PTWC) has only recently been notified of the application, which is now well into the 30 day window for public participation, which closes at 5 pm on July 3, 2023.

PTWC urges people with concerns, comments or objections to urgently register as Interested and Affected Parties (I&AP) before the above date. Full details below.

The news of the application comes via Friends of Verlorenvlei, a local community organisation who have mounted a strong challenge against Bongani Minerals. Friends of Verlorenvlei was set up several years ago to protect the fragile Verlorenvlei estuary in nearby Elands Bay and surrounding areas from mining and other ecological threats upstream.

The Verlorenvlei at sunrise. One of the most important estuarine systems in the Western Cape, and one of the largest natural wetlands on the Cape west coast. Photo: Unknown

Verlorenvlei falls at the end of the Verloren river, which in turn is fed by its main tributary, the Krom Antonies river, which rises in the Moutonshoek Valley where the proposed mining is planned. Verlorenvlei has in recent years almost run dry, detrimentally affecting adjacent ecosystems and the local population. Already under severe pressure from upstream farming, the proposed Riviera Mining Project as the Bongani plan is titled, could be massively detrimental to the environment and population in the immediate vicinity, as well as communities downstream who depend on the water.

As with all such applications, the more public input and outcry against them, the less likely they are to be permitted, particularly if a comprehensive environmental impact assessment (EIA) is not forthcoming.

According to the draft scoping report (available below), the EIA will “assess project specific environmental impacts and alternatives, consider public input, and propose mitigation measures in cooperation with specialists, to ultimately culminate in an environmental management programme (EMPR) that informs the competent authority (Department of Mineral Resources and Energy) when considering the environmental authorisation.”

Tungsten and molybdenum are exceptionally strong refractory metals used in steel to increase hardness and strength, and in lamp filaments. Tungsten is considered a ‘strategic metal’ by China and the European Union and considered a highly profitable mineral. The draft scoping report outlines several proposed advantages to the presence of this proposed tungsten mine, including increased employment, as well as knock-on economic stimulation for the local economy.

Plant layout diagram.

But Friends of Verlorenvlei, which is made up of people who will be directly impacted, disagree. Their objections include critical counterpoints that they believe far outweigh economic upsides claimed by Bongani Minerals. They state that the value of low grade tungsten ore “can only be excavated and beneficiated by means of an apocalyptic mining operation” and that the mining “cannot possibly be set against the intrinsic value of an already beleaguered natural landscape and water catchment area, and existing agricultural infrastructure and human settlements.”

“The Moutonshoek Valley was declared a Protected Environment on 9 April 2018. It is impossible to mine tungsten anywhere and simultaneously viably protect the environment.”

Specifically, these concerns include the following potential threats:

Water and Farming

The proposed mining will need huge amounts of water, which will put incredible pressure on an already strained water catchment area, including rivers and groundwater aquifers, which are vital for agriculture and community survival.

“The Krom Antonies River rises in the Moutonshoek Valley and now constitutes the major contributing source of surface water for the Verloren River and ultimately Verlorenvlei. Depletion of or contamination of this water resource would compromise all enterprise alongside the Verloren River valley all the way to Elands Bay,” states the Friends of Verlorenvlei document.

“Given the consequent environmental degradation thousands of farmworkers would be deprived of their employment, at a time when national unemployment figures are at an all-time high. The intention to monitor groundwater which would inevitably be contaminated or lost in the process would be laughable if it was not intrinsically improbable.”

Dust and Contaminants

International studies have shown that inhalation of nanoparticles of tungsten can pose a severe health risk and damage the environment.

“The long term negative effects of tungsten dust are well documented and considerable volumes of dust would be generated for many years,” states the Friends of Verlorenvlei.

“It will not be feasible to contain such volumes of dust within the site… the applicant simply cannot provide that, under applicable weather conditions, tungsten dust particles will not affect a considerable geographical area.

“The method of beneficiation described would inevitably contaminate the soil and seasonal rainfall would convey such contaminants across the landscape and into the Krom Antonies river and thus into the Verloren River.”

Noise and Disruption

According to the draft scoping report the operational phase of the mine (estimated at 11 years) will entail opencast mining.

“The first phase will focus on pre-stripping the top layer material, of which the topsoil will be stored separately for rehabilitation, then waste rock stripping to access the ore body and then opencast mining on the shallowest region of the ore body.

“The mining technology to be used will include drilling and blasting with associated truck and shovel operations. Excavated material will be processed to produce a tungsten concentrate that will in turn be transported from site to an offsite metallurgical plant at Saldanha Bay, from where the sealable products (APT) will be exported via the multi-purpose terminal of Saldanha Bay Harbour.”

Friends of Verlorenvlei contend that the transportation of APT in and out of the area will be a major disturbance to the local human and animal populations and “would generate noise which would make life impossible.”

Over and above this, opencast tungsten mines usually require large areas of the landscape to be excavated, which undoubtedly will be an eyesore in an otherwise beautiful natural environment.

Though Bongani Minerals have pledged to rehabilitate the area in full in the decommissioning phase of the project, the track record of the mining industry in the region in doing so is chequered at best, and there is ostensibly no guarantee that it will be brought back to its original natural state coupled with the lack of proper oversight by the DMRE in holding those responsible to account.

For the Friends of Verlorenvlei in particular are the concerns with the repercussions of the mine on the local population and the fragile, struggling estuary downstream of the Veloren river.

“Verlorenvlei, a declared RAMSAR site, Important Bird Area and designated an Internationally Significant Wetland is already beleaguered. The natural resources of the valley and surrounds have already been severely impacted by development and agriculture; in particular ground and surface water, endemic vegetation, and habitat for all forms of wildlife including fish and birds.”

Register as Interested and Affected Party (I&AP) in objection to this proposed tungsten mine on the West Coast before July 3.

Download the Registration as objector and mandate to object_201230613 document:

Download the Draft Scoping Report for the Riviera Mining Project:

Download the Draft Social and Labour Plan for the Riviera Mining Project:

Download the DSR Notice for the Riviera Mining Project:

Download the Friends of Verlorenvlei objection document:

For further information contact Ms C. Fouché, Greenmined Environmental (Pty) Ltd.

Tel: 021 851 2673

Cell: 083 265 7755 or 082 811 8514

E-mail: lionel@strata-africa.com or christine.f@greenmined.co.za

Fax: 086 546 0579

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Protect The West Coast is currently working on a portal to streamline this public participation process and will keep you updated on this as news comes but in the meantime, please help us in our work by donating ,HERE.

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