Tendele heading back to court over Somkhele after fresh environmental objection

Somkhele Coal Mine, KwaZulu-Natal. Pic: GroundUp

TENDELE Mining is heading back to court after fresh legal objection to the reopening of the controversial Somkhele coal mine near Mtubatuba in KwaZulu-Natal was being sought.

The coal producer said in a statement today the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) had applied for an order to stop Tendele from recommencing with its mining development activities at Somkhele.

In the meantime, Tendele has agreed with MCEJO that no physical mining activities will start in the Emalahleni or Ophondweni regions of the mine before April 4. After this date, Tendele would start building a small road in Emalahleni in order to access the area that will eventually be mined.

The road would be widened and upgraded once Tendele has received written consent from the Department of Transport, it said.

A dispute over the expansion of Somkhele has been underway for at least three years. It grabbed national attention in October 2020 following the murder of Fikile Ntshangase, an activist who opposed the expansion.

Since then, the mine has received an environmental and mining permit with the only impediment to restarting operations being minority MCEJO’s objections.

“MCEJO appears to represent a few hundred members of this 220,000-strong community, where the mine’s employment, local procurement and social and labour plan-related development work constitutes the bulk of the region’s economic activity,” it said.

In the meantime, Tendele said it was forced to retrench 1,600 employees in the absence of mining. It claims environmental objections to the expansion are denying 20,000 people who rely on the mine for employment or receive the benefits of commercial activity in the region provided by the mine.

It also says Tendele has the support of the majority of interested parties. For instance, the Mpukunyoni Traditional Council, trade unions NUM and AMCU, and the Mpukunyoni Mining Community Forum among others will join it in opposing MCEJO’s court action.