Groot Marico under attack from miners

Foreign owned companies, partnered by Anglo, threaten one of SA's last great rivers.

Groot Marico in South Africa's North West Province, is facing probably the greatest threat in its history. Australian-based prospecting and mining company African Nickel has descended on the area, which is located on the periphery of the planets richest mineral deposit, the Bushveldt Igneous Complex (BIC). For African Nickel executives it is entirely inconceivable that the People of the Marico do not embrace empowerment and "progress". They are at a loss to understand the community's almost hostile resistance.

Meanwhile, frustrated by the consistent lack of concern for the areas basic needs (sewerage, electricity, communication, banking and the most expensive toll-gate in South Africa cutting its flow) the good folk of Groot Marico have mobilised to form a united front to challenge African Nickel (NW) (Pty) Ltd, its holding company African Nickel Ltd, and partner, Anglo American Corporation and holding company Anglo Plc. Resisting African Nickel's advances is only the start for the small community. Rio Tinto has been spotted cruising the dusty one-street backwater.

African Nickel is not African. And its interest far broader than nickel. The application for prospecting covers at least six different minerals including the blanket category of platinum group metals which has made neighbouring Rustenburg the biggest platinum producing area in the world.

African Nickel's black economic empowerment (BEE) partner, Sephaku Holdings (JSE:SEP), sold its 26% shareholding effective January 20 2010. Sephaku, listed on the JSE, announced the pending sale to Mr Wu of the Wu Group, under a cautionary dated January 8 2010. There is no sight of a PDI or BEE there. At a meeting in Groot Marico on the May 14 African Nickel misrepresented its structure by informing a full house of 300 concerned locals that Sephaku Holdings is its BEE component.

African Nickel holding company is registered in the world's number one tax haven, the British Virgin Islands (BVI). The Wu Group is registered in the Cayman Islands, also a tax-haven.

In response to African' Nickel's prospecting application to the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR), a concerned residents action group, MALEPA, has been formed to focus on the technicalities of legal procedure and how to structure the relevant objections. Individual landowners, covering around 300 subdivisions of ten original farms, are still expected to submit their personal objections.

The Groot Marico is largely untouched and hosts the only Class-A/B River in the North West Province. Pure flowing water on a steadily contaminating planet is rather the exception, than the rule. The Groot Marico River is the Lifeblood for more than just the stoic custodians of the area; it is necessary for the sustenance of Gauteng where rivers are exhausted; and at the end of the day may be the very waters that if removed from neighbouring Botswana, will cause a domino effect which sees water abstracted from arguably one of the most beautiful places on Earth, the Okavango Swamps.

South Africa is party to the TSWASA Agreement with neighbouring Botswana. The North West is a border province, and the Class-A/B Groot Marico River is part of a riparian border agreement from which both countries share. To this end Botswana, and its capital, Gaborone, annually receive over 7m cubic metres of water via the Molatedi Dam near Groot Marico.

Botswana has a history of economic and political stability. The first government in Africa to provide free antiretrovirals for HIV/Aids and a bastion against creeping corruption, it is clear its leadership has long-term vision. Its history is colourful and geography unforgettable. The country is built on three income-generating pillars; beef; diamonds, and tourism - all dependent on water. Right now Botswana Water Affairs is negotiating with counterparts in South Africa to increase its yearly allocation.

Taking a step back ...humanity, as we know it, is entirely reliant on the benefits of electricity. Generating electricity requires water: for hydropower, for cooling towers, for coal mining. And while nuclear reactors can use seawater, coal-fired power stations, like the new Medupi plant, require sweet water with no chemical contamination. Even "dry-cooling" requires water. Without water there is no electricity. Plants will begin failing and reserve systems will collapse as the very electricity created to run the plants feeds off itself. A chain reaction of calamity will follow. Without water everything will stop functioning and those that live through this period will be forced to survive in a wasteland. Extreme perhaps, but not impossible!

So is this progress? Do those in the decision-making seats understand the gravity of the situation? Or has greed blinded them to the potential reality? South Africa hosted the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. Eight years later its people and administration still entertain applications for large scale prospecting and mining in an area where the IUCN Red listed, vulnerable Marico Barb swims, and where an even greater threatened species, a Class-A/B River still flows. This very river a proudly South African National Ecosystem Freshwater Priority Area (NEFPA).

Responsibility rests with each individual, not a government alone, to ensure that there is something good left for future generations. Dinosaurs fossiliSed, left a fantasy to chew on; the Egyptians left their pyramids provoking endless debate, and humanity, at this rate ...a post-holocaust landscape of "progress". If this is allowed to go-ahead then all South Africa amounts to is the discordant empty blast of a vuvuzela, and its decision makers should be called to account for human rights violations ...but then again, parched tongues cannot bear witness.

Article by: Geraldine Bennett -