The State was reminded of its moral duty and international responsibilities as the Gauteng High Court slammed the brakes on proposed mining activities affecting the Mabola wetland and grassland system, a critical biodiversity area and a strategic water source that feeds three of South Africa’s major rivers.

Eight protection groups, including Birdlife South Africa and the Endangered Wildlife Trust, were rewarded after a prolonged battle with the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Department of Mineral Resources regarding the improper issuing of a permit authorising the development of a new coal mine.

The applicants relied on the legislation created to give effect to the constitutional obligation to protect the environment for future generations. It was argued that the Department of Environmental Affairs had failed, as required by section 2 of the National Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998, to apply a risk-averse and cautious approach when dealing with sensitive, vulnerable, highly dynamic or stressed ecosystems such as wetlands or other similar systems.

The court confirmed the Government’s obligation to act as trustee and custodian of vulnerable environments like the Mabola wetlands and grasslands, the authorisation of the permit was reviewed and set aside by the judicial review of the administrative action taken by the Minister of Environmental Affairs and the Minister of Mineral Resources in terms of Section 6(2) of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act 3 of 2000.

Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of South Africa and Others v Minister of Environmental Affairs and Others (2019) 1 All SA 491 (GP)