The road to Lephalale
It was on a Thursday morning 26th July, when I got a call from the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance [VEJA] informing me about an Environmental Impact Assessment [EIA] course that was due to happen at Lephalale in the Northern Province. “It is a four day course, whereby two days was designated for travelling to and back from Limpopo” said the administrator on the other side of the line. All I could say was yes, even though I had pressing issues with the Botle Ba Tlhaho Environmental Group which demanded all my attention. It sounded more of an exciting trip as though I had been anticipating visiting Limpopo Province again. As I would remember the very first time I had ever travelled to Limpopo when I was in grade 10 at High School, whereby it was an annual field trip to camp in Luis Trichardt. I was then enthralled as very much edgy to the Lephalale journey, as though this time around it was more of a matured and occupational journey.
Being an Environmental campaigner in South Africa is not much of a populist trait or rather activist, as though one would require being thoughtful of nature to its succumbed conditions. On the 31st July Tuesday morning I woke up with excitement, and was picked up by my colleagues, Mr. Samson Mokoena and Miss. Caroline Ntaopane both VEJA co-ordinators and Rhona Riet, a fellow activist we campaign with. The four of us had drove to the O.R Tambo International Airport, whereby we had to meet up with the rest of the crew coming from Durban; Mpumalanga and Cape Town. We all had arrived at the meeting point around 11:30am for 12:00pm. We then got sorted out in terms of our next travelling session to the destination. I was quite stunned by the way things were happening, surprising enough I never knew that the course would be facilitated by the Wild Environmental Society of South Africa [WESSA]. When we were ready to hit the road to Lephalale, I was the lucky person to join the course facilitators in the same ride. I then got introduced to Mr. Chris Galliers one of the course facilitators at the WESSA national office in Cape Town. We then took a turn to their North Gauteng Branch in Bryanston to fetch another counterpart Mr. Lemson Bertha. The trip for me was more of an insightful journey, too much of the environmental vocabulary all the way.
We travelled almost three hours on the road, I was quite fortunate to have such an experience of travelling to a wonderful wilderness geographic area South Africa has with the experts. I have to admit that Limpopo is one of the greatest wilderness provinces we are sure to be blessed with here in South Africa. The natural reserves such as Ridges and the beautiful mountainous landscape are at the pick of environmental concerns. The province is well known for its dryness, although enormously rich of its fauna land which leads to a number one tourist destination for wild life. I was very much impressed by the different types of Acacia species with other dry land indigenous trees one would come across while entering Limpopo from the south. I had soon realized that during the time of travel, especially after Chris had alluded more whom was schooling us along the journey, it was not the best time of the season to have to experience the Limpopo wilderness in adventurous. It would have been perfect during summer whereby a fauna flux would have turned to greener pastures, although there were interesting facts and aspects of the natural existence within the area. I was keener in seeing the indigenous birds which of course quite a handful of rare species I came across.
At the arrival, which was around four in the afternoon, we were then ushered into our rooms at a three star hotel to find myself sharing with another activist from Mpumalanga by the name Thomas. Everything was well taken care of by groundWorks; an international NGO VEJA is affiliating with. We then had a settling afternoon towards the relaxed evening in preparing for the first day of the course.
Day 1 was more introductory with the course and its purpose, getting to know all the participants. It was a long day after we had understood the role of EIA in South Africa which it became the highlight of the day, more over the processes of spatial development with regards to the environmental impact as a prime concern. It then became a clear meaning in understanding the linkage between the value of environment to people and the planet, more importantly the way livelihoods sustain development for a socio economic balance. Day 2 became more intense as it focused on public participation in the EIA, a case study based on mining from open cast to underground processes. The prospecting mining rights and other relevant legislations in terms of proposing a best tool for EIA reporting.
According to the composition and scope of the overall course with regards to the participants, it was more of a complex situation with the representatives in a normal society. The bargaining of environmental activists had dominated the dual course and the political point of view had clashes of interests as opposed to the benefit of ordinary citizens being the most affected persons. According to the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act the minister had already declared three national areas as Air shed Priority Areas, with the Waterberg as the third national priority area. Limpopo is now at the centre of capital investment considering its natural values as it contains large amounts of fossil reefs. This would prove to a mine rush the province is to adhere with in future, the industrial and urban development which will lead to a massive land clearing as an environmental impact. It will only result in a negative impact for as long as the elements of a good EIA and best practices are ignored, leaving the compliance and monitoring processes burdening the most interested and affected persons.
The rest of Day 3 and 4 was left for site visits whereby day 3 was more on the mining sites, visiting the on going process of Medupi Power Station; bought out farms at Steenbok pan that are designated for coal excavation with Exaro Mining investing more and Sasol coming in to secure more land. Limpopo will be one of the few in the sub-Saharan to have two coal powered station operating within the same geographical jurisdictions. It was often highlighted that Limpopo province is one area facing water scarcity even though its natural water resource is already threatened for its succumbed conditions with prominent increasing mining activities. On a day 4, we had travelled to other nearby small towns to witness the sand mining within the river banks, and a township called Marapong whereby people were situated next right to Matimba Power Station from their original farms. We have heard many sensitive issues with regards to people’s removal in their ancestry land.
Concluding the above all, an entire course was much helpful in a sense that one had to understand all the dynamics with Industrial development for a spatial development framework with regards to the EIA protocols. The most intriguing issue is that of a public participation process in a proposed EIA process for industrial development which is mostly not thoroughly implemented by the authorities. I personally believe that South Africa still needs a well educated majority for a better sustenance in development.