The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, 28 of 2002 (“MPRDA”) together with the National Environmental Management Act, 108 of 1998 (“NEMA”) create a regime for environmental management for prospecting, mining and exploration operations within South Africa. Since prospecting, exploration or mining operations will naturally cause environmental degradation, the MPRDA and NEMA set the parameters within which such degradation may occur.
A number of mining companies have in the past, flouted these laws without the regard to the environment and without consequence, a situation bemoaned by various stakeholders and sectors of society.
This state of affairs was, however, recently challenged in a case brought against Anker Coal and Mineral Holdings, where the directors of the company pleaded guilty to charges brought against the company for the contravention of the MPRDA and NEMA which included the following:
- drilling holes in a wetland, which is an ecologically sensitive area;
- leaving core drillings in the veld and road;
- prospecting inside the 100 year floodline;
- failing to adequately fill and cap drill holes;
- failing to submit a rehabilitation plan and to rehabilitate the boreholes drilled;
- failing to remove core materials and submit a rehabilitation plan; and
- providing incorrect information to the Department of Mineral Resources.
A plea and sentence agreement was entered into, in terms of which the company was fined a total amount of R260,000.00, which fine was conditionally suspended for 5 years. The company was further ordered to make compensation of R144 000 to the landowner on whose land the relevant operations were performed.
This case is a first for South Africa and it has been indicated that there are a number of other charges of a similar nature that are currently under investigation. Notwithstanding the fact that in this particular case the penalty seems inconsequential, the fact that such a case has finally been brought before the court indicates the serious light in which the authorities are beginning to view contraventions by mining companies of the MPRDA and NEMA in so far as they relate to the environment. This presents an opportunity for all mining companies to now implement a legal compliance strategy to mitigate the potential risk of prosecution