Lakenvlei is an incredible wetland lying between Dullstroom and Belfast in Mpumalanga, South Africa. It is one of the most unique peatlands in the country and one of the peatlands on the Steenkampsberg Plateau that make up one of South Africa’s most important peat eco-regions in the country. It is a complex peatland having been stable for around 12,000 years with a number of artesian springs feeding into it. It is also an Important Bird Area, and is home to all 3 of South Africa’s cranes species (Blue, Wattled and Grey Crowned Crane) and the elusive White-winged Flufftail. It has also been classified as an irreplaceable area for biodiversity and the ecosystem services it offers in the Conservation Plan developed by the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Association, and has been zoned as a Tourism and Conservation Area in the Emakhazeni Environmental Management Framework.
Sadly, it is this same wetland and its catchment that are being targeted by mining companies for the small coal reserves stored beneath this incredible system. With a maximum of only 5 years (but more realistically only 3) of mining effort to remove the coal from the system, a number of prospecting and mining applications have already been applied for, and more are on the way. The water issues alone are very concerning: the Olifants River Catchment is already in deficit and is severly water stressed; the aquifer from which water will likely be drawn for mining supplies most of the farms in the area with water and is critical to Lakenvlei; an old coal mine in the area still pollutes the water system in the area; and acid mine drainage is a real threat. Working for Wetlands has also invested significant time and money in rehabilitating Lakenvlei.
The area is also well known for its tourism and trout fishing, with most of the farms in the area contributing to the Steenkampsberg tourism industry. Mining will have a significant impact on this economic driver in the area in terms of visual, auditory and road quality impacts amongst others.
On a more positive note though – the incredible support from farmers, NGO’s, municipality, some of the authorities and a host of interested individuals to see the area stay mine free is promising. A coordinated effort to both react to mining applications as they arise, and a proactive approach to secure the area are now being considered, bringing together all of the stakeholders.