THE McGregor Museum in South Africa’s Kimberley has interdicted diamond mining on Canteen Kopje – an internationally famous archaeological site near Barkly West – by Jackie M. Wesi Mining which started operations there over the Human Rights Day long weekend (March 19 – 21).
The interdict also cites the South African Heritage Resources Agency (Sahra) to prevent it from lifting a “cessation of work order” over Canteen Kopje.
Sahra is the government statutory organisation which is supposed to protect the country’s cultural heritage in terms of the National Heritage Resources Act. Sahra imposed a “cessation of work order” on Canteen Kopje in 2014 when the first attempts to mine the site were made.
All archaeological sites in South Africa require a permit from Sahra if they are to be disturbed in any way. Formally gazetted sites like Canteen Kopje theoretically should have even greater protection.
According to David Morris, head of archaeology at the McGregor Museum and co-permit holder for the excavations at the Canteen Kopje site: “Sahra imposed a cease works order in December 2014. It now appears this has been lifted though we, as the current valid heritage permit holders were not consulted, nor informed of the change of status”.
Interviewed on Saturday immediately before the interdict was obtained in the Kimberley High Court, Morris said: “Sahra is just totally missing in action as far as we can tell and the site is being destroyed as I speak. Digging goes full steam ahead. The destruction of Africa’s heritage. I am enraged”.
Morris initially laid a charge against the mining operations at the Barkly West police station before obtaining the interdict which directed the Barkly West police to “order the immediate cessation of work at the site”.
According to Morris, the Canteen Kopje site is the oldest – and one of the most important – stone age archaeological sites so far discovered in South Africa because the artefacts being unearthed there trace back some 2.3 million years to the earliest stone tools found in Southern Africa.
The archaeological sequence extends from that period to the near present in the form of pottery shards found on surface which link to the local people of the region.
Barkly West is situated near what is known as the Middle Orange River where valuable deposits of alluvial diamonds have been mined since the major diamond strike at Kimberley in 1868.
Alluvial diamond mining operations continue in the region to this day carried out by Johannesburg-listed companies such as Rockwell Diamonds and a host of small, private operators.
It is understood that Jackie Wesi – the holder of the mineral right to Canteen Kopje – is a resident of the nearby town of Windsorton while the mining was being carried out by contractor Lucas Sonnenberg.
Miningmx was unable to reach Sahra CEO, Velizwa Baduza. A list of questions was e-mailed to Sahra at the request of marketing practitioner Eric Radzilani. No reply had been received as of the stated deadline.
Wesi and Sahra have until April 8 to reply and “show cause” why the interdict should not be declared final.