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Overberg prospecting permit concerns South Africa wine producers

South Africa grape growers and winemakers fear their local environment will be irrevocably damaged if a prospecting permit for land near Napier in the Overberg wine region, pictured, is granted.

Cienth Pty Ltd has applied for a permit to explore some 4,200ha of farmland in the Overberg Highlands for gold, silver and tin ore.

It would then be able to apply for an exclusive 30-year mining permit covering the area, located just outside Napier on the southern tip of the African continent.

The region’s grape growers and wine producers fear that productive farmland will be destroyed, food security will be threatened and jobs will be lost.

‘The consequences of this application being approved are too terrible to contemplate,’ said Bruce Jack, one of South Africa’s most renowned winemakers, who owns The Drift Estate in the region.

‘Unfortunately, things are stacked against us, and time is of the essence,’ he added. ‘Whoever is behind this application is determined to succeed and has substantial resources, both financial and otherwise.’

Cienth Pty Ltd does not have a website, and it is unclear who is behind the company. It has applied to South Africa’s Department of Mineral Resources & Energy for the permit.

‘Severe and immediate’ impact

Wynand Wessels, chairman of the Napier Farmers’ Organisation, is driving the opposition to the prospecting application.

Elsaine Costerus-Möhr, an environmental lawyer representing the organisation, said: ‘In my experience, I have seldom ever come across a prospecting right which does not progress to a mining right.

‘If this happens, the landowners, farmers and even their descendants will not see rehabilitation in their lifetime, and no financial provision will be sufficient to fill the void left by mining activities.’

Winemakers and other farmers in Overberg have joined forces to oppose the prospecting permit application, as they fear it would be a ‘crush to our agricultural community’, according to Jack.

The initial prospecting would not directly threaten vineyards, as it would focus primarily on sheep grazing land and grain farms.

However, it would have a ‘severe and immediate’ impact on wine tourism, said Jack, as ‘no one wants to go wine tasting next to a noisy, loud, dirty opencast mining operation’.

He added: ‘If mining is approved, the destruction of vineyard land and potential vineyard land could be massive, because the prospecting area will inevitably be extended and will directly affect over 200ha of vineyards, and indirectly affect hundreds more.’

The Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust is standing alongside local farmers in a bid to stop the prospecting application from being granted.

It has urged anyone interested in protecting the region’s landscapes and freshwater ecosystems to join the fight.

To do so, contact McDonald Mdluli (info@lwethuma.com) and ask to be registered as an ‘Interested and Affected Party to the Prospecting Right Application submitted by Cienth (Pty) Ltd – WC 30/5/1/1/2/10447 PR’.

Those registered can then request to see the ‘Background Information Document’ and the draft ‘Basic Assessment Report’ and provide feedback.

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