The latest furore in South Africa is over the Cloudy Creek or Rietspruit wetland on the south bank of the Vaal river. The Sasol Chemical Industries wants to strip mine the area for coal as feedstock for the plant, which requires seven million tonnes of coal per annum to turn into plastics, fertiliser, paint solvents, waxes, explosives and a variety of chemicals.
The main contention of the anti-mining lobby is that Sasol would be mining in a very large wetland - 1,800 ha- which is an underground river delta that purifies and slowly pushes two million cu m of water per year into the Vaal barrage, according to Rand Water, a conservationist group that is planning to retain the area as an animal rehabilitation centre.
The Rietspruit itself, claims Save the Vaal Environment (SAVE), is the only source of clean water flowing into the Vaal barrage, which the Sasol wants to dam and divert. SAVE pointed out that the area to be mined is of great ecological importance as it also is home to 242 species of birds and 21 species of mammals. It claimed that the recreational value of the Vaal barrage is also likely to be affected due to mining.
SAVE assessed that digging into the wetland will negatively alter the hydrology and water regimes, as well as the soil profiles. It alleged that Sasol is looking only at short-term profits at cost of the environment. Besides, mining is not the best land-use option in that area, it said. According to the group, Sasol is also overlooking the constitutional right to "an environment which is not detrimental to our health and well-being". In any case. strip mining in the would be difficult simply because there is a likelihood of water standing in the cuts.