FOSAF together with major environmental NGO's formed the SEI coalition in 2011 in order to assist the Mpumalanga Parks & Tourism Agency protect the Dullstroom plateau from the threat of mining. By working in unison they have had a measure of success in opposing new applications for prospecting/mining, and particularly in the gazetting of the 14 000 ha Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment the declaration of which will be finalised shortly. This is expected to be the forerunner of further PE's in the area.
The Steenkampsberg Environmental Initiative (SEI) was formed in May 2011 at a meeting on Middelpunt Farm in the Dullstroom district. This was in response to the growing threat posed by mining to the very rich biodiversity and vast network of wetlands of this area. To achieve this goal the NGO's comprising principally EWT, Birdlife SA and FOSAF sought to support the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) with the final objective of having these areas declared 'Protected Environments' in terms of the Protected Areas Act as had already been done further south at Chrissiesmeer and Wakkerstroom/Luneberg. FOSAF's particular interest was to protect what is considered to be the country's most important flyfishing resource which also drives the local economy.
The first step taken by the SEI was to support the MTPA in objecting to the growing number of applications to prospect and mine and object/appeal any licences granted in the area. The second step was to assist the MTPA in submitting a Section 49 application in terms of the Minerals & Petroleum Resources Development Act of 2002 (MPRDA). This allows the Minister to set aside this area for a period of up to three years during which no further applications will be accepted and it gives the applicant time to form Protected Environment/s (PE's). Although the submission for a Section 49 area of 200 000 ha of the Belfast/Dullstroom district was finalised in December 2011 and submitted to the DMR (Mining Dept) Witbank, this application has stalled in this office and has not yet been forwarded to the Minister. In the meantime a steady and increasing flow of applications to prospect in the SEI area has been approved by the DMR but fortunately no further licences have been granted mainly due to stiff opposition from the SEI and in fact some applications have been withdrawn. A notable exception is the granting of a mining right for an open-cast coal mine right on the border of the Lakenvlei. This licence is now the subject of 3 appeals from members of the SEI and the Centre for Environmental Rights and it is also doubtful whether the applicant will obtain their water use licence.
In early 2012 the Environmental Affairs Dept. of Mpumalanga Government was very concerned about the threat to the Lakenvlei which is by far Dullstroom's largest wetland and classified as irreplaceable. They therefore requested the MPTA and SEI to approach landowners in the Lakenvlei and adjoining areas to form a Protected Environment of 14 000 ha. This project was supported by a study of the Dullstroom tourist industry commissioned by FOSAF (http://www.fosaf.co.za/tourist) and further supported by a carbon sequestration studies of the Lakenvlei. The intent to declare the Greater Lakenvlei a PE was gazetted in May 2014 and despite fierce opposition from several miners the SEI has been assured the declaration will be signed off in 2015. This step has encouraged other landowners to come forward with offers to have their properties included in future PE's.
Despite the success of the Greater Lakenvlei PE project we must be aware that the Amendment to the MPRDA which recently came into effect has given even greater powers to the Mining Dept. This together with an attitude of many mining companies that they can mine anywhere they want because they have political support at high level means that it will be a hard road ahead for the SEI.