The annual Porters’ Race is not the only activity to take place this month in Malawi’s Mulanje Massif. On the 3 May 2013, Spring Stone Limited, a joint venture of the Canadian Gold Canyon Resources and Japan Oil, Gas & Metals National Corporation, was able to restart prospecting for rare earth elements on the mountain.
In December 2012, we blogged that Spring Stone, which is carrying out exploration activities in Mulanje’s Chambe Basin, was handed a court injunction, along with the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT), by the High Court in Blantyre to cease activities. A permanent injunction was sought by a group referring to themselves as “Concerned Citizens“ in January 2013 and a month later, Spring Stone ceased its rare earth exploration project, which was in its second drilling phase. The group of Concerned Citizens, led by parliamentarian Peter Nowa and Bon Kalindo (comedian-cum-politician, Deputy National Public Secretary of the opposition party Democratic Progressive Party), took the company to court over alleged destruction to the environment through prospecting activities.
Last week, the High Court in Blantyre ruled that Spring Stone has been complying with the terms and conditions of the licences is operating within the guidelines set out in the Exclusive Prospecting License and so can restart prospecting. According to the companies Press Release (9 May 2013):
On 3rd May 2013, the Court delivered its ruling which held, amongst other things, that the Company had been carrying out its REE Exploration in accordance with the terms and conditions of its Licence under a commitment to cause minimum disturbance of the environment and ensuring the conservation of the environment at Chambe Basin and the surrounding areas. Accordingly, the Court discharged the injunction and ordered that the Concerned Citizens bear the related costs.
Spring Stone Limited, a Malawi subsidiary of an exploration joint venture between Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation and Gold Canyon Resources Inc., will continue carrying out its business within the confines of the applicable laws and in full consultation with all relevant local and national stakeholders. The Company remains committed to closely working with Malawi Government and to contributing effectively to the social and economic sustainable development of Malawi.
The company will continue carrying out its business within the confines of the applicable laws and in full consultation with all relevant local and national stakeholders.
Contention over the exploration site has arisen, in part, because Mulanje is a biosphere reserve and on the tentative list to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to Spring Stone’s website, the company is collaborating with MMCT and the Ministry of Forestry to ensure environmental care during prospecting activities, and monitors closely forest fires, water sources and illegal logging activities:
The Mulanje Mountain area historically belongs to “Mulanje Forest Reserve” since 1927 where Ministry of Forestry has been responsible for its administration and management.
In 2001, an entire Mulanje area was registered as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. A private NGO, Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust was organized in 2002, and then participated in forestry management with the Ministry of Forestry. Chambe basin is located in peripheral zone of Biosphere Reserve, classified as “Transition Zone” that allows industrial use. Our Drilling program has been conducted strictly within this Transition Zone.
Natural forest of Chambe basin was logged approximately 80 years ago, thereafter Mexican Pine was planted for lumber business. Recently, Ministry of Forestry and MMCT started a campaign to eradicate Mexican Pine to regenerate indigenous Mulanje Cedar forest; however the campaign is struggling mostly due to technical aspects of understanding the growth conditions of Mulanje Cedar.
The JV [Joint Venture] plans to propose a package of REE mining and also assisting to regenerate original vegetation of Chambe basin.
The company has also engaged with local communities, part of the legal requirement for public consultations, but also necessary to dispel concerns over environmental degradation. The company reports through its website that one local stakeholder commented in September 2012
We have seen contrary things than what we expected, we heard that you are digging tunnels, crushing rocks and cutting down trees, for your activities, but honestly speaking this is not the case, this is the opposite of what we heard and what is written. We shall help to explain to people about your activities and what we have seen.
Spring Stone may have won this battle, but it should learn from the challenges Paladin, the operator of Malawi’s largest mining project, continues to face from stakeholders at both the community and the national levels.
Update 14 May 2013: Nyasa Times has reported that Bon Kalindo vows to challenge the court’s decision and believe that the court should have called for an inter-party hearing before dismissing the injunction. He told the online newspaper,
We don’t want to be seen as difficult people or seen as if we are trying to advance some hostility against the company. No, we are unhappy with its destructive mining activities in on the mountain.
The mountain belongs to us, Malawians, as such we cannot allow some company to destroy various natural tress covering the mountain. We are pretty aware that the mining activities will destroy the environment on the mountain and surrounding areas.
Update 8 June 2013: The Daily Times posted on Facebook today that the communities around Mulanje are demanding a written agreement with Spring Stone. Concerned citizens (parliamentarians, traditional leaders and members of the community) met following the lifting of the injunction by the High Court to discuss the way forward. Parliamentarian for Mulanje Pasani Peter Nowa explained
The injunction that we obtained was lifted by the court but we are not just taking it lying down. We have already started engaging other stakeholders so that we find an amicable solution on the issue. veryone, including chiefs, was surprised that the injunction which has been protecting our mountain was lifted. However, we have a meeting scheduled for Tuesday next week where we shall meet all stakeholders including the mining company and Ministry of Mines officials. Our demands are that there should be no mining on top of the mountain and also that there should be an immediate reforestation programme on the mountain.
The District Commissioner for Mulanje Jack Ngulube confirmed the meeting and expressed the need for reaching an amicable agreement,
It is important that both sides should sit down and talk this over. The concerned parties need to understand each other’s points of view. What we are saying is that while Springstone were awarded an exploratory licence they should respect its guidelines in order to protect the environment. This is what the community wants for their welfare to be protected.