Yolan Friedmann, EWT CEO

yolanf@ewt.org.za We have many challenges in our country, and one that plagues us all too often is poor decision-making on behalf of the authorities who have the mandate to safeguard our environment for current and future generations. We fully appreciate the fine balancing act that our decision-makers face, with millions of unemployed people needing jobs at all costs. But we cannot lose sight of the long-term devastation that can arise out of many developments that are, in fact, only opportunities for very limited, short-term gain for a select few. In cases like these, it behoves organisations like the EWT and our partners to fight for a greater good that considers not only the needs of future generations but those of the current as well. A case in point is the ongoing fight to protect the Mabola Protected Environment in Mpumalanga from inappropriate mining activity, which will destroy its critical biodiversity, its important contribution to water security, and its unique variety of threatened species.

The EWT is a member of a coalition of eight civil society organisations, which has been working since 2015 to prevent the development of the proposed Yzermyn coal mine near Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga proceeding. Our reasons for wanting to stop this mine are based on our grave concern for the negative impact of this proposed coal mine, which would fall within a Strategic Water Source Area – one of only 22 areas from which more than 50% of South Africa’s freshwater originates. Protecting strategic water source areas is crucial for South Africa’s water security, provide water for people and economic activity, food security, and meaningful, long-term job creation.

There are currently five court challenges to various permits granted for the proposed mine, which are pending before the High Court, with more in the wings as decisions are taken which, in our view, are not in the interest of sustainable living and environmental protection to the benefit of all.

Whilst we await the courts’ decisions on the pending matters, the coalition went to court in March to seek an urgent interdict to halt any form of development. The matter went before the Pretoria High Court, which issued a ruling on 23 March that interdicts the coal mining company from commencing mining and related activities in a Strategic Water Source Area. The interdict was issued to allow the legal challenges of its various permits to be decided first before harm is done to this fragile system.

The EWT is not a litigious organisation by nature but takes seriously our commitment to ensuring a healthy planet and an equitable world that values and sustains the diversity of all life, so if we need to resort to the courts to help us secure critical water sources and fragile ecosystems, we will. The Mabola Protected Environment is one of these critical areas that cannot be lost to future generations for the unique and critically important life-giving services it provides. The other coalition members feel the same, and hence we joined forces to defend the Mabola Protected Environment along with the Mining and Environmental Justice Communities Network of South Africa, groundWork, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, BirdLife South Africa, the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, the Association for Water and Rural Development (AWARD), and the Bench Marks Foundation, and we are all represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights in this critical and landmark case.

The EWT is pleased with the outcome of this court action, which builds confidence around the balancing role that our courts still play by upholding the rule of law in a country where competing interests can drown out the voices of many. We will continue to update you on this matter as the various court proceedings come to a head later this year.