PTWC in legal fight against mining company Trans Hex to save critically important coastline.

A Cape Town High Court interdict hearing on 29 August aims to save a critically sensitive estuary on the Cape West Coast.

Words by Miles Masterson and Steve Pike.

An old ‘kliniek’ rusting away at an unrehabilitated site once operated by Trans Hex. Image – Khaya Pullen.

A Cape Town High Court interdict hearing on 29 August aims to save a critically sensitive estuary on the Cape West Coast, and protect community livelihoods.

The ,interdict to stop a 30 year renewal for Trans Hex (formerly Moonstone Diamond Marketing) to mine in the ocean, on stretches of beach, and in Olifants River Estuary, has been brought by Protect The West Coast (PTWC), small scale fishers and other applicants.

The basis of the interdict is that 10 mining rights renewed in late 2021, including sea concessions, surf zones and admiralty strips along a 85km stretch of coastline, were illegally given based on an outdated Environmental Management Programme (EMPr) from 2002. This EMPr ignores up-to-date environmental science, mapping and socioeconomic developments, as well as the value of the Olifants Estuary as a mainstay for livelihoods in the area.

As a result, the future of one of South Africa’s most biodiverse and fragile ecosystems lies at stake, and the fortunes of local fishermen – as well as tourism prospects – are under threat.

The interdict is crucial to stop the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy from renewing old mining rights with out-of-date EMPrs under the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act 28 of 2002 (MPRDA). The renewal of old rights must require environmental authorisation, public participation, and an upgrade to the existing EMPr. Legislation enacted and amended since 2002 include the Integrated Coastal Management Act, the National Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998 (NEMA), and the Olifants Estuary Management Plan. Biodiversity Management Tools are also now in place.

PTWC Managing Director Mike Schlebach said that apart from the legalities of mining approvals, the fact that “mining is even considered in such a pristine, fragile environment should send shivers of fear down all those who want to ensure our remaining natural spaces are left to thrive, untrammelled by extractive industries such as mining”.

“There is no justifiable reason that mining should be allowed here. It seems crazy that Trans Hex got this renewal while all other mining companies applying for new mining permits in the same areas have to go through a modern, and more rigorous application process,” Schlebach said.

The ,Olifants Estuary is ranked in the top five of more than 250 estuaries in South Africa. Under the National Biodiversity Assessment, the estuary is designated as a critical biodiversity hotspot, which is third in conservation importance.

A flamboyance of flamingos coming to land at the Olifants River Estuary. Image – Sacha Specker.

A complex set of issues have undermined efforts to bestow conservation status on the Olifants estuary, with the goal that it becomes a ,Ramsar listed site. Communities and other stakeholders support this plan, but it has stretched out for nine years as environmental departments such as Cape Nature, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment struggle to identify an appropriate legal vehicle to achieve this.

Sources say red tape and intransigence by the Department of Public Works, who manage a parcel of land that forms part of the ,Ebenhauser Land Claim, are partly to blame. Once conservation status is achieved, Cape Nature would be the authority working with the communities of Ebenhaeser and Papendorp to manage the estuary, making it much harder for mining companies to get mining authorisations.

PTWC will contend in court that mining could potentially cripple artisanal fishing communities, and jeopardise the tourism potential of the region. Historically, this antiquated method of extractive mining results in large-scale damage that is seldom rehabilitated.

Trans Hex mining the beaches near Doringbaai before they up and left after an interdict was launched. Image – Sacha Specker.

In response, Trans Hex contends that its 2002 EMPrs serve the purpose of an Environmental Authorisation under transitional provisions set out in a section of NEMA. Trans Hex contends that the EMPrs are lawful, and therefore the renewal of its mining rights is lawful.

Trans Hex argues that the MPRDA enables long-established mining companies to renew rights outside the bounds of NEMA, with no public participation or expert input, whereas applications by new companies must obtain environmental authorisations and undergo full public participation.

This reinforces the idea that the odds are stacked in favour of established companies in a form of ‘entrenched patriarchy’.

In preparing its case, PTWC has worked with academics, scientists and other experts – including sedimentologists, soil scientists, rehabilitation experts and fisheries experts – to get the court to secure, and even expand, the no-go areas established in early 2023. PTWC will evidence the harm being committed by mining practices in what is essentially a form of gold rush by miners on what little is left of the West Coast.

The sad state of affairs facing the West Coast. Map by Rio Button of the Department of Environmental and Geographical Science, UCT.

A protest rally, which will include members of the affected West Coast communities, is planned by PTWC outside the Cape Town High Court during the hearing on August 29. We welcome supporters to join us. Watch this space for more information closer to the time.

Please assist us with legal fees. As we all know, legal costs in our fight are very expensive. You can donate in a few ways:

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For media enquiries please contact PTWC Communications Manager Miles Masterson: / 079 966 2548

PTWC vs Trans Hex Timeline

  • April 2019 Trans Hex environmental consultants recommend upgrade to 2002 EMPrs
  • 20 March 2020 Trans Hex applies for mining renewals
  • 9 October 2020 DMRE directs Trans Hex to upgrade their EMPrs
  • 2021 Trans Hex applies under NEMA for an EA, including EMPrs upgrade
  • 3 October 2021 Above process abandoned after Final Scoping Report
  • 8 October 2021 DMRE renews Trans Hex rights for 30 years. No consultation with stakeholders (not specifically required by MPRDA)
  • 2022 Trans Hex abandons EA application
  • July 2022 Mining north of Doringbaai starts. PTWC alerted to the issue
  • October 2022 Trans Hex engages environment consultancy SLR to upgrade their EMPrs
  • January 2023 PTWC applies for immediate interdict and to set aside the renewals
  • May 2023 PTWC and Trans Hex reach an independent interim agreement, which puts in place certain interim measures, pending the outcome of the hearing on August 29
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