Surfers, environmentalists and mining companies at war over plans to expand mineral extraction

For those who live here, it is like a little piece of heaven, with pink flamingos, white beaches and blue ocean waters.

Yet this stretch of South Africa’s west coast has also become a battleground, pitting mining companies against environmentalists fearful that one of nature’s last wild treasures is being ravaged.

Diamonds, zircon and other minerals have long been mined on the sandy shore near the Olifants River, which empties into the Atlantic some 300 kilometers north of Cape Town.

But plans to expand mining have angered surfers, animal lovers and residents in this remote and sparsely populated region, and they are responding with lawsuits and petitions.

“It’s one of the last frontiers on the South African coast where you can go and get lost,” said surfer Mike Schlebach, 45, co-founder of a green campaign group, Protect the West Coast.

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The mining companies say they bring much-needed jobs to the area and insist they comply with environmental regulations.

But locals say the dig, in which sand is removed from beaches and the seabed and sifted for valuable minerals, is scaring away fish and tourists alike, and reducing rather than expanding opportunities for job.

“If we are going to have sea mining, beach mining, land mining… where is the public going to have access to the coast?” questioned Suzanne Du Plessis, 61, a local resident and activist.

Dolphins, seals and bulldozers

From offshore diamond prospecting to building a new port, various projects threaten to scar the area, a biodiversity hotspot home to dolphins, seals and succulent plants, according to Protect the West Coast.

The activists won a small victory in June, when the operator of a mineral sand mine that had obtained government approval to expand its activities to 10 more beaches, promised to carry out additional environmental controls.

This came in the wake of a lawsuit brought by the Center for Environmental Rights (CER), another environmental group, which was settled out of court by the mine’s operator, Australian-owned Minerals Commodities.

The Olifants estuary at Papendorp, near Doringbaai.(English: Wikus De Wet)

But activists remain cautious.

“CER has the right to go back to court if the mine does not comply with the provisions of the agreement,” said CER lawyer Zahra Omar.

She said the mine had already asked for more time to put together its biodiversity management plan.

Minerals Commodities legal counsel Fletcher Hancock said the company was committed to conducting its operations “in an environmentally sustainable and responsible manner.”

Activists and locals feel that the government has left them alone.

smallest catch

Doringbaai resident Peter Owies, 54, says he was surprised when mining started in his town. (English: Wikus De Wet)

In Doringbaai, a small town a few kilometers south of the Olifants Estuary, a once-pristine beach where people used to walk their dogs and enjoy the sunset to the sound of crashing waves is now being ripped apart. by heavy machinery.

Resident Peter Owies, 54, said locals were shocked when mining began earlier this year.

“It was a surprise and a shock to us,” he said.

A meeting requested by the community to discuss the mining plans never took place, and the required consultation only took place online, said Du Plessis, the campaigner.

An aerial view of a sand mine
An aerial view of the Moonstone mine in Doringbaai.(English: Wikus De Wet)

Preston Goliath, a 46-year-old fisherman, said his catch had dwindled after the mining work began and so have dozens of others.

“Because they were pumping for diamonds … the fish moved away and our richest (fishing) school is now empty,” Goliat said.

Some residents want mining on the beach to stop.

But the mine’s owner, Trans Hex, said all its environmental documents are in order, adding that it has had mining rights to the area since 1991.

With dozens more mining permits awaiting approval, Protect the West Coast’s Schlebach said he hoped the government would reconsider its strategy for the region.

A beach with a sign that says danger mining zone mining in progress no entry
Plans to expand mining and prospecting have angered surfers, animal lovers and residents of the sparsely populated rural region.(English: Wikus De Wet)

“There are a whole host of new industries that could have a profoundly positive effect on the people who live on that coast, like seaweed farming,” Schlebach said.

“We have to show them that there is a much better way.

Activists here are optimistic, emboldened by victories achieved elsewhere by environmentalists.

On September 1, activists claimed victory in a court case against energy giant Shell, despite government support for the company, resulting in a ban on seismic exploration off the favored Indian Ocean coast. of tourists.


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