Mining threatens South Africa's West Coast beaches

March 2, 2021 | Environment
South Africa's West Coast: mining is taking over pristine beaches | Photo: PTWC

Protect The West Coast (PTWC) welcomed a legal ruling in early February 2021 against Mineral Resources Commodities Limited (MRC) and Mineral Sands Resources Limited (MSR).

MRC is a Western Australian mining company; MSR is a South African subsidiary of MRC.

The Cape Town-based environmental Not-For-Profit Company (NPC) was formed to oppose increasing mining operations by MRC and other companies on the West Coast of South Africa.

"This ruling is a major coup for the environment and its protection, and we plan on using it to put more pressure on both the government and the miners by bringing more factual information into the public domain," said Mike Schlebach, the driving force behind PTWC.

"By doing this, we will encourage better oversight, accountability, and alternatives."

"Many of MRC's mining activities in South Africa would not be allowed on their home turf in Australia, and we are quite confused as to why its shareholders and the good people of Australia are allowing this."

Protect The West Coast: a not-for-profit company that brings global attention to what is happening along South Africa's fragile, remote stretch of coastline | Photo: PTWC

Local and International Support

Since its formation in November 2020, PTWC has made significant inroads towards its cause, rapidly gaining support in South Africa and internationally, including from top Australian professional surfer Belinda Baggs and Hawaii's John John Florence, two-time world surfing champion.

"Many of MRC's mining activities in South Africa would not be allowed on their home turf in Australia," adds Schlebach.

"We are quite confused as to why its shareholders and the good people of Australia are allowing this."

Schlebach, a Cape Town professional big wave surfer and West Coast regular, has assembled a PTWC executive committee composed of like-minded individuals.

Many concerned surfers and other West Coast lovers have also joined the cause, including South African big wave surfing world champion Grant "Twiggy" Baker.

Some of the PTWC's notable achievements since its inception include 31 public appeals filed against an MSR Olifants River Estuary prospecting application and 4,500 social media followers in less than three months.

PTWC also gathered more than 22,200 signatures on its petition against the Tormin extension and Olifants Estuary prospecting directed at South African Minister of Forestry and Fisheries and Environmental Affairs, Barbara Creecy.

PTWC built significant engagement with like-minded activists, companies, and organizations, including West Coast communities and the Western Cape First Nations Collective.

Schlebach and his team are now planning a short film focused on West Coast mining with the celebrated filmmaker, Brian Little.

Elands Bay: mining companies have lodged applications for prospecting operations of diamonds, gemstones, heavy minerals, industrial minerals, precious metals, ferrous and base metals | Photo: PTWC

SLAPP Suits

MRC and MSR launched several defamation cases - or what the six defendants in those cases alleged were '"SLAPP" suits - intended to silence stated opposition against MSR's intention to mine heavy minerals at the Xolobeni mine near the Amadiba community in the Wild Coast region of South Africa's Eastern Cape.

"SLAPP," an acronym for "Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation," originated in the United States to describe "meritless or exaggerated lawsuits intended to intimidate civil society advocates, human rights defenders, journalists, academics and individuals as well as organizations acting in the public interest."

Following several years of legal wrangling by MRC, MSR, and controversial Australian Chief Executive Officer, Mark Caruso, the landmark ruling was handed down by Western Cape High Court deputy judge president Patricia Goliath on February 10, who stated, "SLAPP suits constitute an abuse of process, and are inconsistent with our constitutional values and scheme."

The ruling, celebrated widely by environmentalists and affected communities, is a major victory in campaigning against mining companies that utilize the courts as a means to silence critics.

It has emboldened PTWC in the fight against mining operations, which can result in devastating long-term damage to the environment and negatively affect local economies and communities.

South Africa's West Coast: a surfing and environmental paradise threatened by mining activities | Photo: PTWC

Protecting South Africa's West Coast

Mining has become a common practice on pristine beaches and offshore areas of South Africa's West Coast.

The industrial activity is restricting public coastal access, causing devastating environmental damage, and negatively affecting local communities.

The problem is not new and has been going on for several decades.

Nevertheless, the pressure of multinational mining companies on natural resources has been increasing fast with the support and approval of local and national authorities.

According to PTWC, there are numerous new mining applications in the pipeline and widespread concerns about the effect of their operations on the environment.

Citizens and environmentalists are worried about a proposal for a massive shipping port in Port Nolloth to support the industry.

Protect The West Coast is a not-for-profit company (NPC) formed in November 2020 to bring global attention to what is happening along this fragile, remote stretch of coastline.

The organization aims to prevent the further destruction of the unique, biodiverse region and preserve it for future generations through information and activism.

"It is vitally important that the people of the West Coast see alternatives to mining as a viable and sustainable long-term solution to putting food on their tables, including tourism, conservation, small-scale commercial fishing, and sport," concludes Mike Schlebach.

"Our goal is to hold both the mining sector and government accountable for their actions.

"We need to ensure that mining companies do not deviate from their prescribed legally binding environmental responsibilities and that the government fully adheres to its oversight responsibilities."

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