Mining company sets sights on Musina's copper

Date: 10 February 2018 By: Isabel Venter

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The Musina community was adamant - they would fight until the bitter end to protect their part of the world from mining operations.

In this instance they were specifically referring to mining company Smarty (South Africa) Mineral Investment (Pty) Ltd and the interest they have shown showed in seven farms near Musina where they allege they have found a viable copper deposit.

Representatives of Smarty met with the community at a public-participation meeting that was held in Musina on Tuesday, 23 January. The meeting was, however, widely labelled as a total mess from beginning to end. Attendees mentioned that Smarty and their representatives were nowhere near prepared to address the Musina community’s concerns.

Regarding this, Smarty later admitted in their comment report drafted after the meeting that some reports had in fact been received only weeks before the meeting, meaning that they did not have sufficient time to study the results.

Smarty first showed interest in Musina’s copper deposits in 2016. The proposed mining area will stretch over Ward 2 and 6 of Musina. This includes the south-eastern outskirts of the Nancefield informal settlement outside Musina, and the north-western border of Musina’s residential areas. If the mine becomes a reality, this will mean that a limitation will exist on the boundaries of the town to expand and grow in the future. 

The major issue, however, remains the amount of water that the copper mine will need if it becomes a reality. According to the mine’s environmental impact assessment (EIA) report, the mine will use an average of 13 473 m³ of water per day, of which 6 768 m³ of water per day will be raw water. This is an estimated 13 473 000 litres of water per day.

Speculation is that the mine will probably make use of “closed-circuit” plants. This will mean that almost half of the water gets re-used, while the remaining water that cannot be re-used will run into container dams.

To put the water-use in perspective, consider that the city of Cape Town aims to restrict its residents to 500 million litres of water per day. Prior to the strict water control measures and the penalties, the city used around 620 million litres of water per day. The mine will thus use more than 1% of such a city’s water every day.

The Nzhelele dam, 63 km south of Musina, has a capacity of 55,3 million cubic metres of water, or 55 300 million litres of water. The latest dam-level indicators show the dam to be at 37,9%, in theory meaning that it still holds 20 958 million litres of water. Should the mining project tap water from the dam every day, and no one else was using the water, and with no evaporation, the source would last roughly eight years.

Of course, a scenario where no one else is dependent on the water does not exist. The evaporation from such a dam could be estimated at about 20% per annum. It can, of course rain, but the Nzhelele area is prone to long spells of drought. The population growth in the area has also put a further strain on the limited water resources.

In addition, despite residents’ demanding clarification about this burning topic, Smarty representatives remained vague about where they would get this much water in the arid area. It was hinted in the EIA that the company would approach the Vhembe District Municipality to purchase bulk water.

According to Smarty, a ground-water study was completed towards the end of December 2017, which was only provided to them during the first week of January this year. “Smarty now has an estimate of the quantity of make-up water required and is investigating possibilities for sourcing it,” was the official statement from Smarty. The company added that, once they have had time to fully peruse the report, they will formulate a solution to be submitted to the Department of Mineral Rights (DMR).

“Smarty is not in a position at this time to provide final details in this regard. They are in discussion with people who may be able to supply the mine with water, but these discussions are still at an early stage. If, in the end, they cannot get the water they need it will be physically impossible to continue with the proposed mine,” said the company.

“I was born in Musina…[the] Messina Transvaal Copper Mine developed one of South Africa’s largest copper mines in this area. They mined here for 70 years and did everything possible to find excess copper. At the point of closure, we were given a clear indication that there is no more copper to mine,” remarked Mr Jack Klaff, a prominent businessman of Musina.

According to Smarty, however, they have found enough copper to carve out a 250m open-cast mine that will be in operation for the next 15 years.

The community also wanted to hear nothing of Smarty’s promised benefits that mining will bring hold for the local economy. “There are better ways to create employment without opening this mine. This mine will sink the people of Musina. The only people who have taken more from the people are the Guptas. There are major issues here; if they are not sorted out now, they will have to be sorted out in court,” warned Klaff.

The company was equally vague about inquiries as to how exactly they had explored the copper deposit, which is estimated to produce 20 000 tons per year.




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Isabel Venter

Isabel joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in 2009 as a reporter. She holds a BA Degree in Communication Sciences from the University of South Africa. Her beat is mainly crime and court reporting.



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