Internal documents from the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) and a DMR whistleblower paint a picture of the irregular decision making during the processing of an application for a mining permit for a billion-rand Western Cape phosphate mine that counts Patrice Motsepe’s African Rainbow Capital as its largest shareholder.
New Frame reported that Kropz Elandsfontein received its mining right “unlawfully”. However, the favourable treatment Kropz received from the department did not begin with the awarding of the mining right. Motsepe has been invested in the mine since 2016, after the mining right was already granted.
The DMR whistleblower alleges that the department allowed Kropz the opportunity to conduct specialist studies and update its environmental management programme (EMPr) after the 120-day deadline from initial submission had lapsed.
The whistleblower said other mines were refused outright in similar circumstances, in accordance with the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA).
The whistleblower said Kropz’s EMPr “committed to little … The baseline studies poorly describe the baseline environment and the mine can therefore not be held accountable for environmental damage.”
New Frame can reveal:
- That both activists and department documents say there were failings in Kropz public participation processes;
- That Kropz made “vague” environmental submissions, which were “not sufficient” for the department’s oversight role;
- That environmentalists had concerns about the mine’s impact on the Elandsfontein Aquifer and Langebaan Lagoon, which the department ignored; and
- That the department received objections to Kropz’s mining right application from the Department of Water and Sanitation, SANparks, Cape Nature, Heritage Western Cape and the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning in the Western Cape
A bad start
With five years of hindsight, environmental activists involved in contesting the Kropz Elandsfontein phosphate mine in the Saldanha Bay Municipality have suggested that the way the public consultation process for its mining right application began was a harbinger of what was to come.
They said that from the release of Kropz’s first scoping report over the Christmas holidays in December 2013, the company’s interaction with the public had been lacking.
They alleged that Kropz repeatedly did not allow adequate time for comments to be made on documents that were made public, and that the mine’s management committed at public meetings to extend submission deadlines on which they would later backtrack.
Activists said Kropz submitted its environmental impact assessment (EIA) and EMPr to the department on 17 September 2014 without any public comment.
The Mine Environmental Record of Decision (Mem Rod), a department document detailing the evaluation of the EIA and EMPr, states that “it is obvious” that all comments on the final EIA and EMPr were not included and responded to in the version submitted to the department on 17 September.
Kropz denied these allegations, with its chief executive Ian Harebottle saying that Kropz’s environmental consultant had adhered to the time limits as given in the National Environmental Management Act.
He said all comments and issues raised by stakeholders were captured and that all comments received after the EIA and EMPr had been submitted to the department were also submitted to the DMR for consideration.
The Mem Rod shows that there were significant objections to Kropz’s mining right application. The Department of Water and Sanitation, South African National Parks (SANparks), governmental conservation organisation Cape Nature, public entity Heritage Western Cape and the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning in the Western Cape all lodged objections with the Department of Mineral Resources.
The Mem Rod shows that SANParks had concerns about “negative impacts” on the integrity of the West Coast National Park, which borders the mine.
The Department of Water and Sanitation submitted comments on Kropz’s mining right application to the Department of Mineral Resources in June and August 2014, indicating that it objected to the application and that more work was required to make an informed decision about the permit.
In October 2014, the Department of Water and Sanitation wrote again to the Department of Mineral Resources indicating that it was not in favour of mining activities in the area and would not support the application until all uncertainties had been addressed.
That same month, Cape Nature director of biodiversity support Ernst Baard wrote to the department that the impact of the mine on biodiversity was “unacceptably high”, even after mitigation measures were implemented. He said the mine “should not be considered for authorisation”.
This was the second time that Cape Nature was raising objections. Baard had written to the department in February 2014 saying that his organisation did not support the project. “Any activities that have the potential to negatively impact on the aquifer below the site should not be supported,” he wrote.
A key concern among environmentalists is the impact the mining would have on the Elandsfontein Aquifer, which is situated below the mining site. Phosphates and salts leaching from the mine into the aquifer is seen as a risk.
They said the Water Research Commission had classified the Elandsfontein Aquifer, Langebaan Road Aquifer and Langebaan Lagoon as one system. The Langebaan Lagoon is a Ramsar site, which is a wetland site of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, a Unesco intergovernmental environmental treaty.
Kropz and the department have pointed out that the Department of Water and Sanitation considered these objections while processing Kropz’s water use licence in 2016 and 2017. But as shown above, the Department of Water and Sanitation was against awarding the mining right in 2014.
Harebottle said the mine was constructed with “the environment and preservation of the water resources at front of mind”.
“The WUL [water use licence] contains conditions with which Kropz must comply,” he said. “We have every confidence that the results from the ongoing water monitoring fully supports the mine’s position.”
‘Vague’ environmental plans
According to the Mem Rod, Kropz’s submissions to the DMR were lacking in specialist studies, contained inconsistencies and were “not sufficient” for department officials to make an informed decision.
The Mem Rod also states that the various versions of reports provided to the public and authorities lead to “confusion”.
In most cases, the submissions from Kropz were followed by detailed requests from the department for additional information.
Harebottle said this interaction and dialogue is a “normal and standard part of the process” and that the department’s Mem Rod must be read in context.
He said the views expressed in the Mem Rod by a department official represent a “certain time in the processing of the Kropz application” and that the comments in it are based on the first draft of Kropz’s EMPr.
Harebottle said that in this first draft, Kropz explicitly states that the EMPr will be updated to include all the specialist studies and made available for review and comment.
He added that the mining company submitted a revised and updated 1 500-page EMPr on 17 September 2014.
Harebottle said Kropz also held a number of one-on-one meetings with key stakeholders and state departments.
When questioned by New Frame, the department maintained that it was satisfied Kropz had addressed and submitted all the relevant documentation to have its mining permit granted and executed.
The department disputed the allegation that Kropz had received favourable treatment.