Paving Paradise

I lay on an exotic verdant carpet of rolling kikuyu on the banks of an acid polluted lake and stared into the distance at plumes of putrid effluent forming poisonous cumulo-nimbus effigies above the distant horizon. Indian Mynahs, prancing arrogantly in that self-important way of theirs, were the only other vertebrates (besides humans) visible that morning. I was at Witbank dam with family from Johannesburg for a day of water skiing, barbecue and fun in the sun. I took in the scene around me and I felt the cold fingers of premonition close a fist around my soul. I turned to my wife and asked her if this is what the planet would look like when the last resources have been wrested from the earth’s womb? Would we all seek entertainment in this purgatory, boating on vile and insipid lakes of mine drainage while breathing the fumes of industry and revelling in the “beauty” of gardens sterile of all but the hardiest of invasive life? Is this the legacy we will give to the next generation? An empty shell, scraped clean of every last vestige of mineral wealth and rendered hollow and false…a faux natural environment impressively window dressed by industry.

 

Well this seems a tad emotional you might say…perhaps even a little over dramatic. I think not…and hell yes, I am emotional about this. As many will know, we are facing this very spectre of industrialization in our own incomparable wilderness. A coal mining company out of Australia is proposing to mine a field of coking coal within a few kilometres of the eastern boundary of Mapungubwe National Park and within the cultural landscape of the UNESCO recognized World Heritage Site. These coal reserves will be gouged from the earth leaving enormous gaping wounds in the Mopane landscape and the resultant open pits will exhale noxious clouds of coal dust on to the prevailing easterly winds, coating and choking this precious park and region…the wildlife, landscape and vegetation…all of it will be rendered sterile. “No fair” I hear the mining faction squeal…”we will be using environmental International Best Practice!” Is that so…it was International Best Practice that BP used in the Gulf of Mexico wasn’t it? The spin doctoring from these characters and their bought and paid for environmental experts is at times unbelievable.

I need to ask these industrialists, these minions of the almighty greenback…do you know what you are doing? Do you understand the impact and the cumulative effects of what you are proposing? Have you ever stood on a sandstone precipice overlooking the Limpopo, a cliff face washed by the pink and orange glow of an arterial sunset? Have you felt, as I have, the breath of a crepuscular wind, filled with the evocative herbal scents of a hundred veld grasses and the whispered voices of the ancient people that occupied this landscape in the time before? I have crouched in the rock shelters where the San painted thousands of years ago and I have revelled in the sound of their laughter on the savannah winds. I have walked where the ancient Bantu once stood and explored the remains of their mountain fortresses where they sought to build a civilization that only now we are beginning to comprehend. You, oh corpulent mining magnate, you probably understand and feel none of what I am saying and the mere truth of that sickens me. What you propose to do in this paradise, this land of God, this landscape from a time primordial, is nothing short of desecration.

I sat in a Land Rover on a crisp morning with the rich and cloying scent of rain soaked African soil in my nostrils. A breeding herd of impala, dainty and sleek, crossed the dirt track ahead of us. Last to cross was a new born impala lamb, tiny, practically helpless on legs too big and ungainly for its minute little body. I pondered the future of this little ungulate in the midst of the struggle for its wilderness home. I realized then, the enormity of humanity’s responsibility. We have as a species a need to survive and in so doing we will expand our industrial footprint as our populations grow. Surely this must be done in balance with the conservation efforts aimed at these last invaluable pockets of wilderness…surely some things are still sacred.

All I can say to the shareholders and senior management of Coal of Africa Limited is that I hope and pray you have explained to your children what you are proposing to do at Mapungubwe in the name of progress. If you get the permission to continue mining here, I will seek you out and for damn sure you will be explaining it to mine!

Andrew Rae
December 2010

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