Silica mining destroys environment

Cape Concrete is mining sand from dunes at the southern section of the PHA.

Silica mining will leave a 30m deep hole covering 55ha and sterile soil, lost for agriculture, farming, birdlife and biodiversity.

This is according to Gavin Lawson of Plumstead who is a Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) Food and Farming Campaign committee member.

Campaigners driving to save the PHA from being paved over are challenging numerous development approval decisions granted by the City of Cape Town and Provincial Government (“PHA in spotlight”, Bulletin September 21).

Among them is the legality of removing sand from the area, particularly silica sand mining.

PHA campaign spokesman Nazeer Sonday says Cape Town is built from millions of tons of sand mined from the PHA.

“When mining started we didn’t know the impact it would have on its role in the ecology of the area; how it holds water and regulates flooding. Now we want to protect the last sand dunes,” he says.

PHA farmer Jasper Terblanche says all the sand being removed is a huge problem.

“It acts like a sponge, cleaning water, leaving behind pollutants. That’s why the PHA is so good for farming,” he said.

Mr Sonday says the 3 000ha of mostly agricultural land is under threat from illegal use, development, pollution of the aquifer and removal of sand.

The latest application from Atlantic Sands is to mine sand for building from 12.02ha on erf 21202 at the corner of Vesuvius Avenue and Spine Road.

The site is zoned agricultural and is a Critical Biodiversity Area vegetated by Cape Flats Dune Strandveld along with its ecosystem.

Below the surface is the Cape Flats Aquifer which is a major system with a high yield and good quality water.

“It’s important to keep this Strandveld vegetation, a corridor between the peninsula and the Hottentots Holland mountains.

“That’s why dispersing male baboons are stuck on Table Mountain and causing mayhem. It’s all about genetics, not only with baboons, but other mammals such as caracal, buck, insects,” says Mr Lawson.

The PHA campaign have not opposed sand mining in the past but will do so in future, particularly with applications to mine sand for silica.

Mr Lawson says Consol’s application to mine for silica on the 50 to 65 hectares west of Ottery Road has been approved with a further 250 hectares earmarked for prospecting.

Mr Lawson says silica is used in a myriad products, from paint and glass-making to horse racing tracks, boreholes, golf courses and foundries for metal castings. But mostly it is used, and exported, in pool filters.

Mr Sonday says the campaign provided input to the Provincial Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEADP) on the environmentalimpactassessment (EIA). It was approved. They appealed. It was turned down.Consol Glass senior executive Thami Mkhuzangwe says they received four appeals against the granting of the environmental authorisation. These were dismissed in June.

“The PHA Food and Farming Campaign have never commented on the application, nor have they submitted a notice of appeal,” says Mr Mkhuzangwe.

One of the objectors was the DepartmentofAgriculture (DOA) but after discussion with Consol they withdrew the objection as the specific area was considered as having low agricultural value and had always been earmarked for silica mining.

Mr Mkhuzangwe says only 16 percent of the land is viable for agricultural purposes. “It’s water-logged in winter with low rainfalls in summer and at best, it’s only arable for six months of the year,” he says.

However, Mr Sonday says the Spatial Development Framework identifies the PHA as an area of agricultural land of significant value.

“The environmental impact management table refers specifically to mining as the ‘kind of developments, land uses or activities that would be undesirable’.

It alsolists‘Activities that can pollute water and soil resources’ (which are required foragriculturalactivities). Under heritage the PHA cultural landscape is characterised by vegetable farming, a sparse distribution of old farm houses and windbreaks – and also lists mining related activities and infrastructure as undesirable,” says Mr Sonday.

Mr Mkhuzangwe says the quality and suitability of the silica sand in the PHA is unique and it has been documented by the Council of Geosciences as a deposit that should be preserved for mining. “The mining of silica sand in the PHA has been included in the various updates of the Spatial Development Framework study.

And the Final Draft Synthesis Report confirms that the area must be protected and preserved for glass-sand mining,” says Mr Mkhuzangwe.

He says this new mining licence will ensure the continuation of container glass making in the wine industry. “If we were to cease production in this area the effect would be detrimental to the industry and the local economy.

“Farmers would be forced to export their wine in bulk negatively impacting the GDP and employment for the region and the country at large,” he says.

Production of silica sand is a mechanical process with no chemical additives and where water is circulated back into the water table during the mining process.

Mr Sonday took the Bulletin and Mr Lawson south of the PHA where farmers Johan Terblanche and Ian Grimbacher have planted crops between the proposed 579ha Oaklands development to the east and 280ha Uvest to the west.

Mr Grimbacher says sand mining has been taking place for the past 20 years. “Without it there would be no farming,” he told the Bulletin.

Mr Terblanche says there is not much sand left for building. “Philippi is not a good area and it’s expensive to farm here. We’re feeding people cheaply, we want to sell,” he says.

There is constant traffic of trucks filled with sand mined on the buffer zone between False Bay and the PHA, known as the City’s food basket because it provides an annual 150 000 tonne yield of vegetables and flowers.

Mr Sonday said the area had a good climate, soil and water.

The City’s mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, Brett Herron, says a consent use to permit a mine on a property zoned agriculture was approved on May 10, subject to conditions. There is no rezoning of the property.

Environmental authorisation was granted by the Western Cape Provincial Government for Environmental Affairs and Development Planning on July 27 2016.