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Legal Battle Over Coastal Diamond Mining Rights Set to Shake up South African Mining Regulation

Published September 21, 2023
8 months ago

A potentially landmark legal battle commences in the Western Cape High Court this week. The case revolves around maxed out diamond mining rights on the West Coast by Trans Hex, a mining group. This legal action challenges the extension of these diamond mining rights and could potentially reshape mining regulation, particularly regarding environmental approval and public participation, in South Africa.



Co-applicants Protect the West Coast, an environmental nonprofit, two groups of small-scale fishers from Doringbaai and the Olifants River estuary, and two individual fishers from Doringbaai filed this lawsuit. They contend they were unaware of and unable to comment on these lengthy mining rights extensions. Their concerns mirrored in when the original rights were awarded between 1994 and 1998.


The complaint hinges on the outdated environmental management programmes (EMPs) which form the foundation of the mining rights, which the claimants argue require new authorisations compliant with current legislation. These objections are problematised due to the lack of opportunity for public participation and the perceived secretiveness surrounding the extensions.


Trans Hex holds ten mining rights along a vast 85km stretch of the West Coast, operating under the trading name Moonstone Diamond Marketing between February 2020 and February 2023. Their rights - extended in 2015 and 2021 for another thirty years - cover a mix of shallow sea mining areas and coastal strips, all backed by varyingly updated EMPs. No public input or announcement marked these awards, further sparking contention.



When Trans Hex failed to provide crucial information concerning the rights extensions, the applicants launched a two-part court case in December 2022. The application seeks firstly, an interdict to halt any mining activities by Trans Hex pending the resolution of the severability of those rights. Secondly, it calls for a review of the original and renewal decisions to grant mining rights in the three sea concessions.


Trans Hex maintains a strong defence, citing that the claims are "unsubstantiated and baseless." They insist that their operations are lawfully compliant, attributing their long history of exploration, mining, and marketing of west coast diamonds to their commitment to environmental compliance.


The Tuesday hearing will focus only on Part A of the application, built on the claim of irreparable harm due to the outdated EMPs. To this, Trans Hex’s operational director, Ian Hesterman, contends that all allegations of harm are unfounded or speculative.


The outcome of this case could significantly influence South African mining and environmental regulations, making it a pivotal watch for stakeholders in these areas.


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