The recent surge in the number of mining operations in and on the fringes of Southern African conservation areas is disturbing. This was hammered home to us on our recent trip to the Namib-Naukluft Park in the central Namib Desert. The area has experienced mining since German colonial times, with small mines exploiting deposits of mica and copper, amongst others, but this was long before the park was proclaimed.
Then in the 1970’s the Rossing Mine was opened on the park’s north-western flank but still outside the conservation area, although drawing water from the underground flow of the Swakop River. Now there are three new uranium mines operating well within the northern sector of the park, water pipelines are being laid to feed them. Certain roads are now closed to the public, the noise of mining activity can be heard from at least three of the public camps and aerial dust levels are high. In the 1970’s concerns were raised about the amount of water being drawn from the Swakop and Kuiseb rivers to feed to the growing towns of Walvis Bay and Swakopmund, as well as the newly opened Rossing Mine. At the time it was feared that increased offtake would result in many of the mature trees along the banks of these rivers dying off as the water table fell.
Both coastal towns are growing rapidly and the three new mines will expand. We visited both the Kuiseb River and the Swakop and encountered numerous dead trees but could not be sure whether this was normal die-off, or acceleration caused by water extraction.
Although mining in major conservation areas in South Africa has so far been avoided, in many areas they are crowding their flanks. Coal mines are now operating around the clock within sight of the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Complex, as well as Mapungubwe National Park. Where once one had uninterupted views and peaceful nights one now has lights, noise and dust, not to mention the rumble of heavy lorries. What impact on the environment and its biota? Kyle has spent considerable time recently on a game farm close to Alldays, Limpopo Province, South Africa, and he has noticed an increase in light and sound pollution in the area, from amongst others the Venetia diamond mine and developing coal mines. One can only wonder how long it will be before the mining companies start plundering the mineral wealth within our premier conservation areas.
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