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Friday, September 24, 2010

Is the Mapungubwe Heritage Site under threat?

With today being Heritage Day in South Africa, I decided to explore what all the fuss was about with the World Heritage Site called Mapungubwe, situated in the Limpopo province (old Northern Transvaal).

It appears that certain individuals and groups are of the opinion that the cultural heritage and related aspects of the environment of this region is under severe threat from by an Australian company, - Coal of Africa Limited (CoAL). One facebook group has even gone so far as to state that our National Heritage is being sold for Australian Dollars.

The Australian company has recently been given the go ahead to begin construction of an opencast and underground coal mine within less than 6km from the borders of the Mapungubwe National Park and adjacent to the World Heritage Site.

According to information provided on the web site of www.savemapungubwe.org.za, an appeal was apparently lodged with the government, on the grounds that the environmental management plan (EMP) submitted by CoAL is deficient and that the approval of the EMP is unlawful and invalid because it purports to authorise conduct which is prohibited and unlawful in terms of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, 57 of 2003.

When it comes to matters of preserving our natural environment, my first reaction is to climb in boots-an-all and to help where I can, but in this case I have decided to restrain myself, for various reasons.

South Africa has three major issues that have affected our lives for far too long now! These issues relate to crime, poverty, and corruption. Not a day goes by without us being aware of these three elements dominating the scene. I know the Limpopo province like the back of my hand, and there’s no doubt in my mind that it is one of the most beautiful and tranquil regions of our planet. Besides Gauteng, it is also one of the most dangerous places in South Africa to live.

The latest crime statistics released by the South Africa Police, which cover the 2009/2010 financial year from the 1st April 2009 to 31 March 2010, reveals that Limpopo is the only province that showed an increase in murder crimes. Percentage wise the province shows an increase of 10.4% since the 2003/2004 financial year. Click here to download the latest stats for murder (PDF document). The statistics for attempted murder also reveal that the Limpopo province (and North West province) both show an increase from the previous financial year. Click here to download the stats for attempted murder (PDF document).

The north-eastern part of the Limpopo province borders Zimbabwe from where more than three million refugees have illegally crossed the border. These people are largely responsible for the majority of the crime in that area. Because they cannot find work, they eventually migrate further south and end up in Gauteng, mainly in and near the two big cities of Pretoria and Johannesburg, where their main source of income is street-begging and crime. A few end up working, mainly as gardeners, in the affluent suburbs…. (and people wonder why they’re easy targets for these criminals!) They are also responsible for the xenophobic violence that erupts every odd now and then.

Every single town in the Limpopo province, from Louis Trichardt in the north all the way down to Warmbaths (Bela-Bela) in the south, have been overrun by hordes of foreign blacks. The closer you get to the Zimbabwean border the blacker the population. It is difficult to tell who are legal, and who are not! The town of Alldays, which is only 58km from the Pont Drift border post, has become a colossal dusty shantytown. There is no drinking water, - not a drop, but yet crudely constructed shacks are popping up by the hour, faster than you can say “Zim!” I honestly don’t know how these people survive without water, but they do! It would maybe be a good idea if environmental activists focus their energies on examining the negative impact those Zimbabwean migrants are causing the ecosystem in that area! The number of trees are also diminishing by the hour. Where is the outcry?

Incidentally, you do not want to be in the town of Pietersburg (Polokwane) during rush-hour traffic. I made a judgement error once and ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. I quickly realised that if I wanted to get out of there alive only one rule applied, and that was: - there are no rules!

The lawless chaos in the province was recently highlighted when eleven suspects, including two well-known veterinarians were arrested for their alleged involvement in "hundreds of incidents" of rhino poaching. (Click here for the news report). I find it hard to believe that prominent white folk stooped to such low levels, just for the financial gain. If these people are found guilty, I hope the Judge sentences them to death by Rhino Stampede!

Back to the Mapungubwe controversy …

The archaeological site of Mapungubwe spans the present borders of Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa and lies at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers in South Africa. It is claimed that this region was the centre of the largest kingdom in the subcontinent, where a highly sophisticated people traded gold and ivory with China, India and Egypt.

Apparently, over a thousand years ago it represented one of the most powerful African Iron Age kingdoms, that dominated Southern Africa. The ANC government has exploited this rather vague 1000-year old piece of African history to obliterate and thrash all White Afrikaner Heritage in the entire Limpopo province. (See my previous post: Limpopo Province – A Heritage Under Siege!)

No one really knows for sure why that supposed mighty royal kingdom never stayed in the region, and what exactly caused the ‘empire’ to crumble. Maybe their Chinese masters got fed up with all the riots about wages and so forth, and closed down all mining operations! Two posts on this blog actually hint that this may have been the case, but who am I to make such wild, politically-incorrect allegations? For those who are interested, the two posts are:
Evidence of early Chinese influence in Africa and Unravelling the mystery of South Africa’s ancient stone structures.

And while on the subject of wild allegations…, the website www.southafrica.info suggests that the archaeological finding at the Mapungubwe region were kept hidden from the world during the apartheid era “since they provided contrary evidence to the racist ideology of black inferiority underpinning apartheid.” What utter nonsense, -- for ever since the time gold fragments where first discovered on Mapungubwe Hill in 1933, the University of Pretoria has researched, excavated, collected, AND preserved every single artefact found in the region. The region, including a very old rubbish dump nearby, called K2, were declared National Monuments long before the country was handed over to the ANC communists!

The Mapungubwe region received World Heritage Status in July 2003, and in September 2004 it officially became known as Mapungubwe National Park. The Mapungubwe Museum at the University of Pretoria is open to the public. It does not surprise me in the least that many of the artefacts are of Chinese origin! More information regarding the Mapungubwe Collection can be viewed online at this link.

I honestly cannot see what significance the so-called ‘treasures’ of Mapungubwe hold for our future ‘Rainbow Nation’. Besides all the speculations and mysterious of the past, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the place was a mining region 1000’s of years ago, so why cant it be transformed back to what it was? The citizens of the country need work urgently. What's more, the actual heritage site will remain untouched, it is only the surrounding areas that will be utilized for coal mining! Environmentalists feel that this is too close to home, -- but honestly, whose home are they talking about here?

For interests sake, I decided to have a quick peak at the Australian company, Coal of Africa Limited, as well as their biggest shareholder, ArcelorMittal South Africa Limited.

Coal of Africa Limited is already involved in several mining projects throughout the country, among others, the Makhado project, which covers an area of more than 23,000 hectares in the Mopane/Soutspansberg coalfield, also situated in the Limpopo province.

The Vele coking coal project is the one that is close to the Mapungubwe Heritage Site. The Company is ready to launch Phase 1 of the project, and a significant amount of preparation has already been completed. It is predicted that the mine will deliver 5 million tonnes per annum of saleable coking coal based on prevailing market conditions. The life of the mine is predicted to extend beyond the year 2040.

Besides 30,000-odd direct and indirect jobs the Vele project wil create when operational, the company is committed to spending R500 million over thirty years to ensure the highest levels of environmental and social performance. The company has also repeatedly stated that they take environmental responsibility very seriously, and that they understand the uniqueness of the area.

Incidentally, the No.1 shareholder, ArcelorMittal South Africa Limited (old Iscor), is also the largest steel producer on the African continent, with a production capacity of 7.8 million tonnes of liquid steel per annum.

In conclusion I must state that I’m impressed with the environmentalists who have pointed out the government’s unlawful approval of the EMP submitted by CoAL. Unfortunately it’s a futile exercise to try stop an operation of this magnitude, especially if it’s going to create employment in a region that desperately needs it, and also energy from an indigenous resource, besides trees!

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