22 March 2022
Diamond mining company Alexkor is facing potential criminal sanction for contravening conditions laid out in a formal Compliance Notice issued last year in connection with its controversial coffer dam construction.
This was confirmed by the Department of Fisheries, Forestry and the Environment (DFFE), following site inspections by its officials last month.
On 12 March a video was posted on social media showing what appears to be construction work on coffer dam walls ostensibly at mining Block 60 near the Orange River Mouth.
A voice-over on the video (translated from Afrikaans) says: “Now you can see how this man [Alexkor’s contractor] is not stopping building his [coffer dam] walls. We [diamond] divers can’t work, we can’t work at all. The sea is dirty and he’s still pushing his walls out into the sea. This sea is like dirty milk. Any diver here that goes into this sea is going to get badly hurt, badly, because you can see absolutely nothing in this water … It can’t work like this.”
The video was initially posted anonymously, but lawyer Henk Smith, who has a long history of working with West Coast communities, has now confirmed that a man has identified himself as the “author or producer” of the unedited video and it is his voice that can be heard.
In an email to the Green Scorpions environmental inspectorate last week, Smith said the man wanted confirmation that he would be protected as a “whistleblower” if Alexkor victimised him because of the video.
Smith said, “He states that witnesses were present at the time that he recorded the video on his phone. The video was recorded last week and shows the activities of a contractor of the Alexkor RMC PSJV, Ambicor, at Block 60 near the Orange River Mouth.”
“He instructs that he is on the receiving end of recriminations, has received threats and warnings and is concerned about his job and livelihood.”
Last year, the Green Scorpions told Alexkor that “serious damage” had been caused by its coffer dam mining methods on the diamond-bearing beaches, specifically as a result of the dumping of malvic (land-sourced) rock to stabilise coffer dam walls.
A Compliance Notice dated 29 July 2021 was served on Alexkor ordering it to stop this practice, and the DFFE also laid criminal charges against the mining company in terms of the National Environmental Management Act.
In January, in response to GroundUp queries, the NPA confirmed that criminal charges had been laid but said it was still examining the docket and had not yet taken a formal decision to prosecute.
On 15 March, DFFE spokesperson Albi Modise told GroundUp that officials from the department had undertaken site inspections in February and had determined non-compliance with the Compliance Notice issued to Alexkor. The department was in the process of initiating “enforcement action” against the Alexkor contractor responsible for the work and had met the NPA to consider “additional actions” against the mining company.
“The officials have finalised their statements in this regard and these were added to the criminal docket in support of additional charges for contravening the Compliance Notice,” Modise said.
Also last week, UCT researcher Dr Jackie Sunde, who works in the One Ocean Hub Research Project in the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, sent an urgent message to DFFE, alerting officials to the alleged contraventions of the Compliance Notice.
“It is alleged that this construction was happening as recently as the 11 March 2022,” she wrote.
“This very destructive type of coffer dam construction is causing extensive health risks to the local small-scale divers as well as destroying their livelihoods and those of the small-scale fishers.”
Sunde told GroundUp that her sources were “very reliable” but were too frightened to be named. They told her they could not become official whistleblowers as they had witnessed the lack of protection for outspoken small-scale diamond diver Gavin Craythorne, who testified at the Zondo Commission, and the impact of this on him and his family. “They are just not in a position to take this risk, which I understand,” she said.
Modise confirmed that DFFE had received Sunde’s message.
Alexkor has not acknowledged GroundUp’s invitation to comment. At the time of publication, the NPA had not replied to a request for an update on the prosecution process.