Miner digs in on winelands application

A major row is brewing between some Western Cape wine estate owners and African Exploration Mining & Finance Corporation (AEMFC) over the state-owned company’s plans to start mining on farms in the Stellenbosch and Cape Town municipal areas.

News last week of an application by AEMFC for rights to prospect for and possibly mine tin, zinc, lead, lithium, copper, manganese and silver on the farms angered wine farmers, residents and environmental groups.

They have voiced concern that mining could disturb ecodiversity, and affect tourism and the quality of wines produced in the region.

AEMFC said yesterday that it would not withdraw its application for mineral rights in the region, and it was up to the Department of Mineral Resources to accept or reject its application.

AEMFC CEO Sizwe Madondo said the company would not back down. “This is still an application and anyone has the right to raise an objection about it. We are still going ahead with the application and it is only the (department) that has to make a determination.”

Wine estate owner Gary Jordan said yesterday that farmers, residents and environmental groups had met at the weekend and resolved to challenge the application. Further meetings have been planned for this week by the Democratic Alliance (DA) to mobilise against the state mining house’s intentions.

Jordan said wine farmers were livid because they were not given any opportunity to raise their objections to the application.

“The major problem here is that we were not given any opportunity to object and our concern is that the government is trying to bulldoze this through.

“This has been a shoddy process and is a deliberate attempt to exclude the public from raising its concerns in the matter.

“There is a conflict of interest here in that AEMFC is a state company and the (department) has to decide on its application,” Jordan said.

“We will take the matter up with the minister, failing which we will take the legal route to challenge the issue in our bid to have the process declared flawed.”

DA spokesman Hendrik Schmidt said that, in essence, the state, as the shareholder of AEMFC, had applied for the granting of a prospecting right while also serving as the required authority in the awarding of those same prospecting rights.

“This position is clearly untenable as it simultaneously acts as both player and referee in the proposed mineral regime being implemented by the government,” he said.

Department spokesman Jeremy Michaels said: “The Department of Mineral Resources processes applications for prospecting rights strictly within the limits of relevant legislation, and we do so without fear or favour regardless of who the applicant is.”

Jordan said there were seven major wine estates that stood to be affected by the state mining company’s move, and these included prominent farms such as Hooggelegen, De Grendel, Langverwacht and Haasendal.

All of these farms were members of the Bottelary Renosterbos Conservancy, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation biodiversity site.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) said the areas affected formed part of landowner conservancies, established by wine farmers to conserve and promote awareness of the region’s biodiversity.

Inge Kotze of WWF’s Biodiversity & Wine initiative, said these landowners had invested significantly in removing invasive vegetation and rehabilitating the area for the past decade, and were among the first to be recognised as Biodiversity & Wine members.

“Not only would mining in this area have a massive impact on the conservation of biodiversity, but it would have major economic impacts on booming wine tourism, along with significant job losses,” Kotze said.

Posted by BHEKI MPOFU Resources Editor

mpofub@bdfm.co.za

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