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Mining Responsibly

South Africa is the biggest mining country in the world, a report compiled by Citigroup estimates that the country has over USD 2.5 trillion in precious metals reserves. To the corporate world this means potential to realize big profits, however to the many communities located in close proximity with mineral reserves this may spell the potential for catastrophic environmental disasters.

The South African legislature recognized the need to address potential problems associated with mining, thus it passed the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act 28 of 2002 (MPRDA).

This piece of legislation requires all persons who have applied for a reconnaissance permission, prospecting right, or a mining right to conduct an environmental impact assessment, furthermore they must submit an environmental management programme in line with the assessment. Section 39 (3) of the MPRDA sets out the requirements the environmental management plan must adhere to. It provides that the plan must establish baseline information concerning the affected environment to determine protection, remedial measures and environmental objectives. The plans should also give an overall impression of the expected impact of the mining operations on the environment. Within the plan, an environmental awareness plan describing the manner in which employees of the mining/prospecting right holder will be informed of the environmental risks that may arise as a result of the mining/prospecting operations. Moreover, the plan must give an account of the methods the prospective mining/prospective right holder will employ to counter environmentally hazardous activity, contain pollutant migration, and comply with waste management standards and practices.

The MPRDA further provides that the Minister responsible for approving the management is under no obligation to approve a plan. Further than that, the MPRDA provides that the Minister may consider recommendations and comments from Regional Mining Development and Environmental Committee, and any state department responsible for some or other environmental laws.

The provisions of the MPRDA stipulating requirements obtaining to an environmental management plan are drafted so comprehensively that no room for manipulation is left, and a multiplicity of interpretations is avoided by the use of clear language. The MPRDA in itself is balanced in that attention is not just given to the extraction of resources, but the environmental consequences thereto are given due regard. This avoids improper exploitation of the environment, and actually goes the extra mile to ensure that the environment is not destroyed during and after mining operations are carried out.

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