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‘The wheels came off’: South Africa court nixes coal mine extension

13 May 2022

A South African judge has declared invalid the 2016 extension of a mining right to allow Tendele Coal Mining Pty. to expand one of the country’s largest coal operations.

Examining a trail of deficient public consultation procedures stretching back to 2013, Judge Noluntu Bam found that the owners of the Somkhele open-cast mine in KwaZulu-Natal province failed to obtain consent from affected communities as required by South African law.

“The wheels came off during the scoping exercise,” read the judgment, which found that the “attitude displayed by Tendele during the scoping phase of the application process [was] offensive.” Local residents opposed to Tendele had appealed its existing mining right, but the minister of minerals and energy, Gwede Mantashe, rejected that appeal in 2018. He will now have to reconsider it.

Located next to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve, the Somkhele open-pit mine has been operating since 2007. The license to expand the mine by 212 square kilometers (86 square miles) was granted in 2016 and challenged in 2018 by the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO), a group formed to oppose mining in the area. The case, however, was only heard in November 2021.

Despite the pollution of water courses, damage to houses, and other negative impacts, many residents have accepted the mine, compensation offered to relocate, and the jobs associated with it. The lingering dispute over its presence has been accompanied by tensions in the communities surrounding it, which peaked with the murder of environmental activist and mine critic Fikile Ntshangase in October 2020.