Communities protest, petition against Petmin’s Somkhele mine

Published Jun 6, 2024


Petmin’s efforts to resume and expand mining operations at South Africa’s biggest anthracite mine in rural KwaZulu-Natal community of KwaSomkhele continues to face disruption and resistance after lobby groups staged a protest action at the Tendele-run mine yesterday.

The Mfolozi Community Environment Justice Organisation (MCEJO) protested at the Somkhele mine near Mtubatuba in KZN yesterday to mark World Environment Day and to “raise awareness” about environmental violations.

“The protest aims to raise awareness about the constitutional right to live in an environment that is not harmful to a person’s health or well-being,” said MCEJO.

Somkhele, ultimately controlled by Petmin, which delisted from the JSE in 2017, is South Africa’s biggest mine for metallurgical anthracite with capacity to produce 1.2 million tons of hard coal.

After stopping operations in 2022, resumption of operations at the mine are hinged on an expansion project which, however, was opposed by communities around the mine, sparking off litigation actions against it.

Environmental campaigners are of the view that communities affected by mining operations in South Africa are often exposed to physical and emotional abuse inflicted by mines.

MCEJO argues that resumption of operations at Tendele infringes on environmental rights of surrounding communities.

The company has not been able to respond to a request for comment from Business Report, and even yesterday did not respond.

However, according to MCEJO, “the Tendele coal mine moved its machines into the eMalahleni area of the KwaMyeki community and started relocating people from Ophondweni, eMahujini, and eMalahleni in early May to make way” for mining operations.

The company was also said to “simultaneously conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and consultation process in the same communities” which is opposed to standard practice of concluding EIA processes first.

Community and environmental groups also protested at Petmin’s head office in Bryanston yesterday, where they delivered a petition calling on the company to stop activities in the area until it concludes its EIA.

“The relocation of people without proper consultation and planning is a violation of their constitutional land and environmental rights,” reads part of the petition by MCEJO to Petmin.

“The process of relocation includes relocating graves, which is sensitive and causes extreme trauma to the families.”

The petition is also requesting that the mine “immediately stop relocating people from eMalahleni and Ophondweni areas until proper consultation and planning have been done to ensure that full and fair compensations are made” and that affected communities are left in a better state than before.

In 2015, Petmin signed a R350 million broad-based black economic empowerment (B-BBEE) deal with local communities and employees at Somkhele, saying this was in line with attributes under the Mining Charter.

The deal gave 20% control of the Somkhele mine into the hands of community groups and employees.

“An important component of this empowerment is in expanded ownership of mining assets,” the company said at the time.

“From inception, it has been Petmin’s strategic intention to embrace the spirit of B-BBEE for the mining industry. It is imperative that local communities and employees become owners so they can participate and share in the economic benefit of our operations.”