Surfers, Environmentalists, and Mining Companies Clash on South Africa's West Coast

It's an issue with echoes of the recent Fight for the Bight: a foreign company extracting domestic resources and upsetting locals in the process. Only this time it's not Norwegian's here in Oz, but an Australian company in South Africa.

Another similarity is that the resistance is being led by local surfers.

To those who live here, it's like a little piece of heaven, boasting pink flamingos, white beaches, and blue ocean waters.

Yet this stretch of South Africa's west coast has also become a battleground, pitching mining firms against environmentalists fearful that wild treasures are being bulldozed away. Diamonds, zircon, and other minerals have long been extracted in the sandy coastline near the Olifants river, which flows into the Atlantic about 300 kilometres north of Cape Town. But plans to expand the mining have angered surfers and residents in this remote, sparsely populated region -- and they are pushing back with lawsuits and petitions.

"It's one of the last frontiers of the South African coastline where you can go and sort of lose yourself," said surfer Mike Schlebach, 45, co-founder of a campaign group, Protect the West Coast.

Mining companies say they bring much-needed jobs to the area and insist they abide by environmental rules. But locals contend the excavation, in which sand is extracted from beaches and the seabed and sifted for valuable minerals, is scaring off fish and tourists alike — and shrinking rather than broadening employment opportunities.

"If we are going to have sea mining, beach mining, land mining…where is the public going to have access to the coast?" questioned Suzanne Du Plessis, 61, a local resident.

Dune and beach mining near Doringbaai (AFP/Wikus De Wet)

Dolphins, seals, and excavators

From offshore diamond prospecting to the construction of a new harbour, several projects threaten to scar the area, a biodiversity hotspot home to dolphins, seals, and succulent plants, according to Protect the West Coast. Campaigners secured a small victory in June, when the operator of a mineral sand mine that had gained government approval to expand its activities to ten more beaches, committed to additional environmental checks.

This came on the back of a lawsuit brought by the Centre of Environment Rights (CER), another environmental group, that was settled out of court by the mine operator, Australian-owned Minerals Commodities.

But activists remain wary. "CER is entitled to go back to court should the mine not comply with the provisions of the agreement," said CER's lawyer Zahra Omar.

She said the mine had already asked for more time to put together its biodiversity management plan. Minerals Commodities legal counsel Fletcher Hancock said the company was committed to conducting its operations "in an environmentally sustainable and responsible way."

Activists and locals feel the government has left them to fend for themselves.

Smaller catch

In Doringbaai, a small town a few kilometres south of the Olifants estuary, a once-pristine beach where people used to walk their dogs and enjoy the sunset is now being torn up by heavy machinery. Resident Peter Owies, 54, said locals were blindsided when mining started earlier this year.

"It was quite a surprise and shock to us," he said. A meeting requested by the community to discuss the mining plans was never held, with the required consultation happening only online, said Du Plessis, the campaigner.

An aerial view of the Moonstone mine in Doringbaai (AFP/Wikus De Wet)

Preston Goliath, a 46-year-old fisherman, said his catch had dwindled after the mining work began and the same is true for dozens of others.

"Because they were pumping for diamonds…the fish moved away and our richest [fisheries] bank is now empty," Mr Goliath said.

Some residents want the beach mining to stop. But mine owner Trans Hex said all its environmental papers are in order, adding it has held mining rights for the area since 1991.

With dozens more mining permits waiting for approval, Mr Schlebach of Protect the West Coast said he hoped the government would rethink its strategy for the region.

"There's a whole array of new industries that could have a profoundly positive effect on the people that live on that coastline, like algae farming," Mr Schlebach said. "We've got to show them that there's a much better way."

Activists here are optimistic, emboldened by victories scored elsewhere by environmentalists. On September 1, activists claimed victory in a court case against energy giant Shell — despite the government's support of the company — resulting in the ban of seismic exploration off the tourist favourite Indian Ocean coast.

// AFP


DudeSweetDudeSweet's picture
DudeSweetDudeSweet's picture
DudeSweetDudeSweet Thursday, 20 Oct 2022 at 12:08pm

What’s the problem?

As long as the sand miners plant out the dunes with marram and bitou when they’re finished it’s basically pristine.

Besides that …have you ever been to a beach which still contains minerals ? It’s far stickier than sifted white sands and goes all through your car floor mats. Plus it looks all dull and icky on Insta.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Thursday, 20 Oct 2022 at 12:50pm

Hmmm...Fletcher Hancock.

Legal counsel for Mineral Commodities.

Has done two stints working for Hancock Prospecting.

Popular surname in mining.

mike oxhard's picture
mike oxhard's picture
mike oxhard Monday, 24 Oct 2022 at 7:36pm

a bit of handcock is mandatory while living on a minesite in the middle of nowhere

garyg1412's picture
garyg1412's picture
garyg1412 Thursday, 20 Oct 2022 at 12:55pm

The old "Environmental papers are in order" claim says the boss on his way to the toilet to wipe his arse with them.
Funny how you can drive your 30 tonne Hitachi onto the beach and destroy it in the name of mineral extraction but aren't allowed your 2 tonne Hilux on the same beach to go fishing because of the endangered wildlife.
Hypocrisy 101 at it's finest.

benjis babe's picture
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benjis babe Thursday, 20 Oct 2022 at 2:03pm

love local communities, keep the fight going, look after our beautiful planet because big businesses and governments have only one thing in mind, and that's all about the $$$$$$....I hope to live in a world one day that values natural resources and the environment over money... mayb in my next life

bbbird's picture
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bbbird Thursday, 20 Oct 2022 at 7:50pm

Companies Ltd are always looking for easy profits, so go to 'poor' Countries and 'weak' Govt's; offer enticements, promise job$, development (roads, ports, power, schools, etc).
eg New Caledonia

Africans could contact the United Nations; System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA)
Reference "Environmental-Economic Accounting for Evidence-Based Policy in Africa"

Enlightened Developed Nations have already adopted a similar community accounting model.

Australian & State Govts support a 'wellbeing' & 'environmental' accounting system in theory & plans were created;

"SEEA-based accounts are ready-made to provide information for environmental decision-making, just as the national accounts inform economic decision-making."
"On paper, Australia’s governments in 2018 endorsed the SEEA and adopted a national strategy to implement it."
Debate continues on effective implementation by Academics 20/10/22

Billions of Fed Govt taxes appears to have gone to big companies instead for the Covid19 Vax, business & job support payments...
refer to next weeks budget for community / Environmental accounting SEEA implementation....

Rubicon's picture
Rubicon's picture
Rubicon Friday, 21 Oct 2022 at 4:50pm

Such horror!
As always, the best way to stop this will be to curtail the excesses of the evil end users of the products generated.
They won't be easy to find, but a few things to look out for...

they'll have paint in their homes
they'll have tiles on their floors
they'll use sunscreen, and electronics, soap, toothpaste.
Some will have surgical implants or travel in planes. They'll advocate for wind turbines as "green" energy.
They'll ride surfboards.

Be vigilant friends, some of these evil pricks will posture as environmentalists, rallying against projects in their back yards or those they deem to affect their interests while continuing to consume these products!

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Friday, 21 Oct 2022 at 7:30pm

All that from a diamond mine?

Rubicon's picture
Rubicon's picture
Rubicon Monday, 24 Oct 2022 at 12:43pm

All that from mineral sands

bbbird's picture
bbbird's picture
bbbird Friday, 21 Oct 2022 at 8:57pm

A geologist found the Largest Gold And Copper Deposit In The World. on top of the most remote area of the world...then WW2 arrived....

In 1960, a further geological expedition found & confirmed the deposit... sponsored by some of the richest men in the western world, 'Freeport executives' Godfrey Rockefeller & Texaco chairman Augustus Long, etc.

In 1963, the administration of Dutch New Guinea was transferred to Indonesia (surprise!)
In 1967, The mine was the first (approved) under the new Suharto Indo administration's foreign investment laws.(surprise, surprise!)

desperate men cleared virgin beaches, wetlands, then rainforests & high mountains, building roads into the mist....

In 1977, the rebel group, Free Papua Movement attacked the mine, so Indo military then killed 800 locals...
In 2005, the New York Times reported that between 1998 and 2004 Freeport had given senior military and police officers and military units nearly $20 million
Then the Freeport mining executives wanted more billion$ they went 2km over to the next mountain ....

The mine tailings, generate, at a rate of 700,000 tonnes per day.... Some 130 square kilometres (50 sq mi) (eventually 230 square kilometres (89 sq mi)of lowland areas along the Aikwa River....

No mention of these impacts on any products sold.....mining continues today at 14000ft
Mine Details in the doco below....

Im not a robot.... but Gina HandcockRindheart billionairess loves them working for free

bbbird's picture
bbbird's picture
bbbird Friday, 21 Oct 2022 at 9:22pm

mine security meeting

strrretch's picture
strrretch's picture
strrretch Saturday, 22 Oct 2022 at 12:57pm

I work at a mineral sands mine in W.A . I know for a FACT , if done right , post mining there is NO discernable or negative impact at all . Believe me , not only would you be unable to discern previously mined areas , you would be impressed by the rehabilitation . If done wrong of course , it could leave a mess . As pointed out above , the everyday products produced from mineral sands are many and essential . Hundreds, if not thousands of products . Without them , our lives would be much poorer .

see.saw's picture
see.saw's picture
see.saw Sunday, 23 Oct 2022 at 6:02pm

Until EVERYTHING rapidly changes, we're fucked. That's not going to happen, so...we're fucked. Mother earth will sort us out, in time.

bbbird's picture
bbbird's picture
bbbird Tuesday, 25 Oct 2022 at 9:56pm
Logical's picture
Logical's picture
Logical Thursday, 3 Nov 2022 at 4:45pm


It is you BITCHES wanting a new iPhone every 1 to 2 Years !!!!!!!!!!