SA’s plans for gas field near Mapungubwe

Written by  Tony Carnie

Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre, Mapungubwe National Park, Limpopo, South Africa. The landscape was both the inspiration for the design and the source of the materials for the construction. designed by Peter Rich Architects, South Africa. Picture by Peter Rich Architects supplied to Verve, The Star.


Durban – South Africa is facing fresh criticism from the World Heritage Committee over plans to establish another coal and gas field close to the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site.

A draft decision, to be debated at the committee’s annual meeting in Cambodia this week, calls on South Africa to conduct an environmental impact assessment and also provide an assurance that it would not allow any more mining projects in the buffer zone surrounding the historic Mapungubwe site.

Predating the more famous Great Zimbabwe kingdom, Mapungubwe is one of eight World Heritage Sites in South Africa protected for their “outstanding universal value”.

The ancient stone citadel kingdom in Limpopo dates from around 900AD and, at the height of its power, was the most powerful inland trading settlement in Africa, until its demise in the 13th century.

Last year, UN World Heritage Committee experts blasted South Africa for putting coal mining before the protection of one of the nation’s oldest cultural treasures.

Previous reports to the committee warned that opencast coal mining by an Australian company posed a “major threat” to Mapungubwe and could lead to “unacceptable and irreversible damage” to huge tracts of land.

New draft documents, to be discussed in Phnom Penh this week, suggested that, in addition to the Vele coal mine about 8km from the border of Mapungubwe, there were also plans to build a new power station and coal/gas field which would “change the character of the landscape” in and around the Mapungubwe heritage site.

The committee said it received an official report from the South African government on January 29 which outlined new plans to create a larger buffer area around the site.

Although The Mercury did not have access to a copy of this report yesterday, the draft World Heritage Committee document suggested that a new coal and gas field was also planned to the north of the Soutpansberg.

The document welcomed plans to enlarge the buffer area around Mapungubwe but noted “with concern” the proposals for a new coal/gas field and requested an assurance from South Africa that no further mining would be allowed inside the buffer zone.

“Further information on this project needs to be provided as soon as possible in relation to its potential impacts,” it said.



South Africa should also provide an environmental impact assessment and heritage impact assessment to the World Heritage Centre as soon as possible “before irreversible commitments are made”.

The latest developments come amid mounting concern about mining projects near several world heritage sites around the world.

A separate report to the committee notes that several global mining companies provided a commitment in 2003 not to explore or mine in World Heritage Sites.

However, despite this commitment “there is evidence that threats to these sites from extractive industries is growing, particularly in Africa”.

Some major oil companies, including Total, SOCO and Tullow Oil, also failed to respond to calls to respect World Heritage sites as “no-go areas”. – The Mercury