Mapungubwe and Vele Mine 02 of 2010

Jun 15, 2010

MISSION 20 of 2010

Name of Mission: Mapungubwe and Vele Mine 02 of 2010    
Date of Mission: 15th June 2010 
Beneficiary: Nick Hiltermann – Chairman – Mapungubwe Action Group
Pilot: Timothy Webster

Report from the beneficiary: Nick Hiltermann

Objective of the Flight:

To take aerial pictures of major road and site developments within the Vele Colliery site which lies just 5.4 km from the border of Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site. These pictures are required to help motivate an interdict against further developments prior to a full judicial review of the process leading up to the award of the mining license.

Vele Colliery lies only 5.4 km from the border of Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage site, adjacent to the banks of the Limpopo and just down-stream from the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers. The mining site is situated immediately adjacent to important parts of the new Greater Mapungubwe TFCA that will include areas of Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa. Mapungubwe is a national treasure as it represents at least 50 000 years of human development and is one of only 3 cultural world heritage sites in all of Africa!

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Whilst the colliery has received a mining licence from the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) and has also had its EMP approved, such DMR approvals flew in the face of much opposition from other government departments as well as a broad coalition of NGO’s. It is the intention of the NGO’s to challenge the legality of the approvals provided by the DMR. The mines Environmental Management Plan (EMP) is considered by independent experts to be fatally flawed! At the time of writing, no water licence has been granted and additionally, Minister Sonjica has publically announced that she is concerned that the Australian company, CoAL of Africa, had possibly embarked on illegal activities at Vele and that the colliery may be halted if it has flouted environmental laws.

The first aerial photographic mission over Vele took place on 20th April and demonstrated that large-scale bush clearing was taking place. The legal team assisting the NGO’s requested that updated pictures be taken in order to demonstrate the speed at which enormous damage was being caused by mining preparations. We are very grateful to The Bateleurs for having agreed to this second mission, on 15th June, 2010.

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he appointed day arrived and welcomed us with a truly freezing morning, which was spiced up still further by a stiff wind.  Lisa Chamberlain, from the Centre for Applied Legal Studies and I met our pilot, Tim Webster, at a private airfield at Hartebeestpoort Dam. Tim wished to fly from there as, owing to security surrounding the World Cup, getting in and out of commercial airfields was proving difficult. The fact that he could walk to the Cessna from his home may also have had something to do with it! The eyes of my young daughter, enjoying the long school ‘World Cup’ holiday, widened somewhat as we took off and appeared to head straight for the mountain adjacent to the dam. What a wonderful experience it was to bank hard and climb out over it.

After a refuel stop in Polokwane, which now boasts a very smart arrivals/departure building, we flew on up to the Limpopo. Initially overflying the mine at 9000 feet, I was able to obtain the requested sequence of high altitude shots that would allow for the making of a reasonably accurate map of all the developments. As we descended to low altitude, the sheer scale of the onslaught within the past 8 weeks was almost over-powering. Enormous red roads cut through the once pristine bush and three vast clearings with major excavations and earthworks were apparent. Much equipment was being installed and huge mining trucks and mechanical scoops were active in many locations. The presence of a King Air on the newly constructed runway indicated that senior people were on site.

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Having used shutter priority at 1/500 of a second and a wide angle zoom lens, hoping to obtain good low level pictures despite the bouncing of the aircraft, we continued down to Musina to photograph the new road which has been constructed to allow for the coal to be taken in fleets of 60 ton trucks to the railway line. How to change the nature of a small and low volume country road that currently traverses a beautiful landscape! Progress?  Perhaps in the eyes of CoAL of Africa and the DMR! Some of our hearts go out to the future generations who will have little to show for these enormous attacks on our special places.

We stopped again at Polokwane and climbed into the sandwiches and cool drinks as Tim refuelled. With everyone in good spirits we then took to the air again.  Nothing had really changed by the time we got back to Hartbeestpoort Dam. The approach was spectacular and the wind still sufficient to keep Tim honest.

Our sincere appreciation to Tim Webster and Pilatus for a safe flight in the 206, and hats off to The Bateleurs for again making it possible. THANK YOU ALL!

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