Protecting Ancestral Land from the Pursuit of Profit

In November 2018 the community of Umgungundlovu, which has called the Xolobeni area of the Eastern Cape in South Africa home since the early 1800’s, secured a critical legal victory to stop planned mining activities on its ancestral land.

Previously, it had been accepted that the landowners and communities only had to be consulted before a mining right is granted. The purpose was to inform them of the planned activities and the potential impacts. It wasn’t necessity to get their consent – the landowner and communities could object, but they couldn’t ultimately prevent the granting of a mining licence.Their only recourse was a claim for damages if there no agreement could be reached with the mining company.

Faced with the loss of access to their land and their way of life, the Umgungundlovu traditional community approached the court for an order declaring that a mining right can’t be granted over their ancestral land without their consent. They argued that the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act (IPILRA) required the free and informed consent of traditional communities before they could be deprived of their land.

The mining company (Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources) disagreed. It relied on the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MRPDA), which didn’t require “consent”, but only “consultation”. They argued that the MPRDA trumps the IPILRA, and that no person had a right to refuse their consent to mine.       

The South African High Court disagreed with the mining company, and held that a mining right couldn’t be granted over a community’s land unless the community had first granted their free and informed consent.

The court said that the question at the heart of the case was:

“Who gets to decide whether mining activities take place on this area – the community which has lived there for centuries,or the [mining company]?”

It was not disputed that the Umgungundlovu community was indeed a “community” and held informal rights to the land in terms of the IPILRA. What was in dispute was if the requirements of both the IPLRA and the MPRDA must be complied with in circumstances where land falls under the IPLRA.   

The court accepted that the IPLRA and MPRDA had different thresholds when it came to engaging with communities and landowners. The IPLRA needs “consent”, which equates to an agreement between the parties. In terms of international law consent needs to be “free, prior and informed”. The MPRDA, however, only needs “consultation”, which is only a process of consensus seeking. The aim of consultation isn’t to reach an agreement but only to involve the landowner and inform them of the possible interference with their property rights.

The court rejected the mining company’s argument that there was a conflict between the two acts. The IPLRA specifically regulates South African customary law, while the MPRDA regulates mining activities while being silent on customary law. The court applied the recent decision of the South African Constitutional Court in the Maledu case, where it was held that the MPRDA and the IPLRA weren’t conflicting and must be interpreted and read harmoniously.

The purpose of the IPLRA is to protect traditional communities’ informal rights to land which were not previously protected under racially discriminatory laws. It gives traditional communities greater protection than the protection enjoyed by common law landowners. The greater protection is justified because a traditional community’s way of life is intrinsically linked to their ancestral land:

“… the communal land and the residential plots (‘umzi’) of each imzi [household] forms an inextricable and integral part of this communities way of life. … a residential plot represents far more than merely a place to live: it is a symbol of social maturity and social dignity. Each residential plot further serves as a critical conduit for the preservation of relations of inter-linkage and mutual dependence between the living and the dead and is critically important for the well being of each imzi.


… the proposed mining activities … will not only bring about a physical displacement from their homes, but will lead to an economic displacement of the community and bring about a complete destruction of their cultural way of life.”

The court accordingly held that the Minister of Mineral Resources did not have the legal power to grant a mining right over a community’s land that is protected by the IPLRA, without the community’s prior consent.

This judgement was hailed by Amnesty International as “a clear message that multinational mining companies cannot trample over people’s rights in the pursuit of profit”, but quickly condemned by the Minister of Mineral Resources for impeding the government’s ability to grant mining rights to companies.

The minister has indicated the intention to appeal the decision, so this won’t be the end of the Umgungundlovu community’s legal battle.  

Citations:

  • Baleni and Others v the Minister of Mineral Resources and Others, Case No 73768/2016
  • Maledu and others v Itereleng Bakgatla Mineral Resources and Another [2018] SACC 41
  • Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act, No 31 of 1996 (IPILRA)
  • Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MRPDA)

Access Denied – No Mining Permitted Without Prior Consultation

In South Africa land ownership is separate from the right to mine minerals found in the land. The mining right holder is, however, given the right to enter land that it doesn’t own to conduct mining operations. This leads to a conflict of rights when a mining company wants enter land that is being productively used as farmland or private housing.

Historically, the rights of a mining right holder trump the landowner’s. If a landowner refused access, then the mining company could approach a court for an order forcing the landowner to give the company access. Any compensation payable to the landowner for the loss of the use of the property could be determined at a later date. A recent decision by the South African Constitutional Court has, however, shifted the balance of power from the mining company back towards the landowner. Even though this case dealt with the rights of a traditional community, the principles apply to all owners and lawful occupiers of land going forward.

In 2008 a mining company was granted a mining right. The company then concluded a lease agreement with the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela Tribal Authority to access the property. After the company started mining, 38 community members objected to the operations primarily on the argument that, (i) they were the true owners of the land, not the tribal authority;and (ii) the mining company had not consulted with them as the landowners before the mining right was granted.

In response the company alleged that they had properly consulted with the tribal authority. The company approached the High Court and was granted a court order (i) evicting the community members from the land; and(ii) preventing them from entering, or conducting farming operations, the land. In its reasoning the High Court applied a previous Supreme Court of Appeal decision(the Maranda case). It held that the mining company had attempted in good faith to comply with its consultative duties and were therefore free to start with their mining activities – if there was any compensation that was due to the community members, then the community members could claim compensation in terms of the “section 54 dispute process”in the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA). It held that mining company didn’t have to follow or exhaust the section 54 dispute process before it could access to the property.

The Constitutional Court disagreed, based on two questions. First, were the 38 community members either owners or lawful occupiers of the property, and entitled to invoke the section 54 dispute process?If so, could the mining company get a court interdict to enforce its right to access the property before it exhausted the section 54 dispute process?

The court found that the community members had an “informal right to land” in terms of the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act (IPILRA). This had not been extinguished when the mining company entered into the lease agreement with the Tribal Authority because the requirements of IPILRA were not followed. The community members were therefore lawful occupiers for the purposes of the section 54 dispute process.

The court then found that the mining company couldn’t enforce its right to access the property before it exhausted the section 54 dispute process. This was to ensure the “balancing of the rights of mining right holders on one hand and those of the surface rights holders on the other. The eviction order was set aside.

The principles of this case apply to all lawful owners and lawful occupiers of land going forward. Practically, a mining company won’t be able to access property and commence with operations unless (i)the commencement of mining operations has been permitted by regional manager,or (ii) the compensation that is payable to the landowners or lawful occupiers has been mutually agreed, or determined by a competent court.

The MPRDA section 54 dispute process

The section 54 dispute process is available if the owner or lawful occupier of a property (i) refuses access; (ii) places unreasonable demands for access; or (iii) can’t be located.

The Department of Mineral Resources’ regional manager must be notified, and the owner or lawful occupier may make representations. After considering the representations the regional manager has two options.

In extreme circumstances the matter may be referred for the government to expropriate the land.

Otherwise, the parties must agree the compensation payable to the owner or lawful occupier for the damage suffered. If an agreement can’t be reached, the compensation payable will be determined by either arbitration or by a court.

If failure to reach an agreement is because of the actions of the mining right holder, then the Regional Manager may prohibit the commencement of operations until the dispute is resolved.

Were the community members entitled to the section 54 dispute process?

Only owners or lawful occupiers are entitled to the section 54 dispute process.

The community members alleged that they were the owners of the property because their ancestors had bought it in 1919. The property was, however, registered as being held in trust on behalf of the Tribal Authority because the past apartheid laws prevented the property from being registered in their names as joint owners. The community members had instituted a separate claim in terms of the Land Titles Adjustment Act to rectify this on the property’s title deed.

The court, however, found that it wasn’t necessary to decide ownership because the community members were lawful occupiers in terms of the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act. The company’s mining right did not mean that the community’s lawful occupation of the property was now unlawful.

The court then investigated if the company’s lease agreement with the Tribal Authority stripped the community members of their informal land rights but found that the provisions of IPILRA hadn’t been complied with in order to deprive the community of their rights.

The community therefore remained lawful occupiers, and were entitled to the section 54 dispute process.

Must the section 54 dispute process be exhausted?

The mining company sent a notice invoking the section 54 dispute process, but this was never followed up. The company argued that it wasn’t necessary to exhaust the section 54 dispute process, and that this position was supported by the Supreme Court of Appeal’s earlier decision in the Maranda case.

The Constitutional Court, however, emphasised two differences between the current case and the Maranda case. First, in the Maranda case the landowner refused all approaches by the mining right holder and the regional manager. It was clearly the landowner’s objective to frustrate the objectives of the MPRDA through an unreasonable refusal.

More importantly, the Constitutional Court highlighted that the MPRDA had been amended, and the section providing for further consultation between the landowner and mining right holder for access was repealed (section 5(4)(c)). It was now imperative that the section 54 dispute mechanism is followed to balance the competing rights between an owner or lawful occupier on one hand and the mining right holder on the other.

In the future mining companies must consult

The Constitutional Court has made it clear that a mining company must engage with owners and lawful occupiers of property to agree terms of access. If there is a dispute on the terms, then the section 54 dispute process in the governing MPRDA must be followed.

However, I don’t believe that the court’s decision means a mining company may never be granted access commence operations without first agreeing terms. The section 54 dispute process provides that if there is no agreement on compensation because of the actions of the mining right holder,then the Regional Manager may prohibit the commencement of operations until the disputes resolution. By implication this means that if the mining company is not at fault, then they may be granted access pending the disputes resolution.

The mining company must, however, consult. Consultation means meaningful consultation according to the principles outlined by the constitutional court in various judgements.

Without an attempt at meaningful consultation,access should be denied.         

Citations

  • Maledu and others v Itereleng Bakgatla Mineral Resources and Another [2018] SACC 41;
  • Joubert v Maranda Mining Company (Pty) Ltd [2009] ZASCA 68;2010 (1) SA 198 (SCA);
  • Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act,No 31 of 1996 (IPILRA);
  • Land Titles Adjustment Act, No 111 of 1993; Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA).

Removing the Court’s Power to Decide for the Minister of Mineral Resources

Public officials’ decisions aren’t always flawless when applying the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA), and there are often situations where the Minister of Mineral Resources makes an incorrect decision. In these circumstances a person is not without any legal remedies. It is possible to bring a court application to set aside the incorrect decision, and refer the matter back to the minister for reconsideration.

As a more expedient alternative to referring a matter back to the minister, it became common to ask the court to take the decision directly, and grant the application. The court is asked to step into the shoes of the minister and make the decision itself. This is known as “substitutionary relief”.

The recent decision of the Supreme Court of Appeal in the case of Pan African Mineral Development Company (Pty) Ltd and others v Aquila Steel (S Africa) (Pty) Ltd may, however, put an end to substitutionary relief when it comes to the grant of applications for prospecting and mining rights.

The courts general power to grant substitutionary relief

Any state decision must be lawful, reasonable, and procedurally fair. If not a court may be approached to “review” the infringing action in terms of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act 3 of 2000 (PAJA).

Courts are rightly hesitant to grant substitutionary relief, being careful not to overstep its role and perform acts that fall into the realm the state. Generally, there are four situations where a court will be prepared to grant substitutionary relief without referring the matter back for reconsideration, namely when:

  • the end result is a forgone conclusion;
  • the court is as well qualified as the original authority to make the decision;
  • any further delay will cause unjustifiable prejudice; or
  • the original decision maker has exhibited bias or incompetence.

Re-examination of substitutionary relief for certain decision in terms of the MPRDA

It became common to ask for substitutionary relief when challenging a decision on the grant of prospecting or mining rights. Without substitutionary relief, the court sets aside the incorrect decision, and then refers the matter back to the minister for fresh determination. This increases the time that it takes to resolve the matter and be granted the application.

It has been argued that a court is entitled to grant substitutionary relief and grant a prospecting or mining right because the minister is compelled to grant these applications if they meet the set requirements. If the application “ticks all the boxes”, then the result is a foregone conclusion because the minister must grant the application, and the court is as well placed as the minister to determine if the application is compliant.

The Supreme Court of Appeal’s recent decision challenges this argument. Here there were two overlapping applications. Aquila Steel brought a High Court application to set aside both the minister’s decision to accept Ziza’s prospecting application and the decision to grant Ziza a prospecting right.

The High Court accepted the argument that Ziza’s application was defective, and that Aquila Steel’s application was the sole application that could be considered and granted. The High Court granted substitutionary relief:

  • setting aside the minister’s decisions regarding the various applications; and
  • substituting the minister’s decision with the court’s decision to grant Aquila Steel a mining right, on terms to be decided by the minister within 3 months.

On appeal this decision to grant of substitutionary relief was criticised, and it was held that the court didn’t have the power to grant substitutionary relief in respect of the decision to grant Aquila Steel a mining right for two reasons.

First, the minister’s power to grant a mining right, and the minister’s power to impose conditions on the mining right, are inextricably linked. It is impossible to separate these two decisions – a grant of the mining right without considering what conditions should be imposed is an invalid exercise of power. The High Court, however, attempted to separate these decisions when it left the imposition of any conditions up to the minister. This meant that the High Court’s order was misconceived and susceptible to attack on this basis.

Secondly, the information in the mining right application was 7 years old, and possibly outdated. This meant that the grant of the mining right was not a foregone conclusion.

The end of substitutionary relief

The courts argument in respect of substitutionary relief for the grant of a mining right would apply equally to the grant of a prospecting right.

The Supreme Court of Appeal has held that the decision to grant a right in terms of the MPRDA is inextricably linked to the conditions that the minister may impose on the right. A court can’t make a decision to grant the right, and then order the minister to impose conditions as the minister deems fit.

A person would be hard pressed to think of a set of facts where it could be confidently argued that the conditions that should be imposed on a prospecting or mining right is a foregone conclusion, and that the court is as well placed as the minister to impose a set of conditions.

It may well be that the Aquila Steel case has put an end to the grant of substitutionary relief when it comes to the grant of prospecting and mining rights in terms of the MPRDA. If not, the Aquila Steel case has drastically limited the cases where the granting of this relief by a court would be appropriate.

Related Reading:

Strict Compliance isn’t Strictly Required by the MPRDA

In South Africa only one person can hold a valid prospecting or mining right for a particular mineral on land in terms of the governing Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA).

To ensure that no conflicting rights are granted, an application system akin to queuing is used. The first person to lodge a prospecting right application for a particular mineral is first in queue, and no prospecting right applications submitted afterwards can be considered or granted until the first application has been rejected (section 16(2)). In addition, a person that is granted a prospecting right over land for a particular mineral has the sole and exclusive right to apply for, and be granted, the relevant mining right (section 19(1)).

Unfortunately, it’s possible for the system not to work as intended, and for the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) to issue overlapping prospecting and mining rights for the same mineral. In these circumstances an aggrieved person can use the MPRDA’s internal appeal process to review the DMR’s administrative decision to issue the conflicting right, and have the conflicting right set aside (section 96(1)). The after the initial internal appeal an unsuccessful party may have the option to approach the High Court for relief in terms of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act 3 of 2000 (PAJA).

This is where complex legal arguments often start, with both parties contending to convince the court that their application was the first valid application that was submitted to the DMR, and that the other parties prospecting or mining right is the right that should be set aside as being invalidly granted. The importance of being the first valid application that was submitted to the DMR was demonstrated in the case of Pan African Mineral Development Company (Pty) Ltd and others v Aquila Steel (S Africa) (Pty) Ltd .

In this case the Supreme Court of Appeal’s decision hinged on whether the first prospecting right application in the queue was fatally defective because it didn’t strictly comply with the requirements of the MPRDA, and whether the DMR was entitled to consider the next conflicting application in the queue because of the first applications non-compliance.

It was not disputed that the first application was non-compliant with the MPRDA, but the Supreme Court ultimately found that even though there was non-compliance, the non-compliance did not render the first application fatally defective. Because the first application in queue was not fatally defective and had not been refused by the DMR, the Supreme Court held that the DMR’s decision to grant the second conflicting right was the invalid decision, and that the second conflicting right was the right that should be set aside.

The original decision of the High Court

This case was first heard in the Gauteng High Court as Aquila Steel (South Africa) Limited v the Minister of Mineral Resources and others, which I discussed here previously. The timeline relating to the two overlapping applications is as follows:

  • On 19 April 2005 Ziza Limited (Ziza) submitted a prospecting right application.
  • A year later, on 18 April 2006, Aquila Steel (South Africa) Limited (Aquila) submitted prospecting right application. Aquila’s application was granted on 11 October 2006.
  • On 26 February 2008 Ziza’s prospecting right application was granted. There were now two prospecting rights granted over the same land for the same mineral.
  • On 14 December 2010 Aquila applied for a mining right. This application was, however, now refused by the DMR because the DMR alleged that of Ziza’s prior application was in queue before Aquila’s, and that Aquila’s right shouldn’t have been granted originally.

It was common cause that Ziza’s application didn’t strictly comply with the requirements of the MPRDA because it didn’t include the prescribed coordinated map showing the land that the application extended over.

The wording of the section 16(3) of the MPRDA when the applications were submitted and decided was the following:

If the application does not comply with the requirements of this section, the Regional Manager must notify the applicant in writing of the fact within 14 days of receipt of the application and return the application to the applicant.

Aquila argued that because Ziza’s application was not complete, the application could not be accepted by the regional manager and it would have to have been “returned” to Ziza. It argued that because the act required return of the application, when Aquila submitted its application there would have been no prior pending application for a prospecting right. Aquila’s application would have been the only valid application, and consequentially the only valid prospecting right, over the contested area.

Ziza counter argued that the defect in its application didn’t mean that its application automatically failed and had to be rejected by the DMR. It argued that a defective application can be amended after submission to remedy defects.

The High Court accepted that the application was defective, and turned its analysis to what the required notifying and “returning the application to the applicant” meant in terms of the then section 16(3) of the MPRDA. Did this mean the application was rejected, or did it mean that the process was merely suspended to allow the applicant to amend its application?

The court considered the objective of the MPRDA to prevent sterilisation of mineral resources. This would be hindered if the return of the application allowed the applicant to amend a defective application. The act didn’t specify any timelines that the amendment must be done, meaning that an applicant could delay the entire procedure by not amending the application (or taking years to amend as in the present case), effectively sterilising the minerals by preventing other companies from applying for prospecting rights over the land.

The court also considered the practicalities of “returning the application”. This means the DMR has no record of the application other than the day that it was received and returned. Crucially the DMR wouldn’t have records of the minerals or land that the application related to.

The court concluded that a “return” of a non-compliant application to allow an applicant to remedy defects amounts to a rejection of the application.

The high court held that:

  • Ziza’s prospecting right application was fatally defective because it failed to strictly comply with the requirements of the MPRDA – Ziza had failed to include the prescribed coordinated map showing the land that the application extended over;
  • the DMR was required to “return” a non-compliant application in terms of section 16(3) of the MPRDA;
  • the “return” of Ziza’s application would mean that the application had been rejected;
  • if Ziza subsequently amended its application, then the amended application would have to be treated as a new application; and
  • it was therefore not competent for the DMR to accept and grant Ziza’s application for a prospecting right.

The court accordingly set aside both the DMR’s decision to accept Ziza’s prospecting application and the decision to grant Ziza a prospecting right.

The reversal of the High Court’s decision on appeal

Ziza appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Appeal, which reversed the High Court’s decision and found in Ziza’s favour.

The Supreme Court first considered a question overlooked by the High Court – was Ziza’s application fatally defective because it didn’t strictly comply with the requirements of the MPRDA by not including the prescribed coordinated map? (See the courts full discussion in paragraph 19 to 22.)

Statutory requirements, such as the requirements that a prospecting application must comply with, are generally either:

  • mandatory (peremptory) requirements, which needs exact compliance and where purported compliance that falls short of the requirements is a nullity; or
  • directory requirements, which although desirable to comply with will have no legal consequences if not complied with (footnote 22).

The requirements of the MPRDA in relation to applications for prospecting rights are framed as mandatory requirements that require strict compliance. The applicable section states that “[a]ny person who wishes to apply to the Minister for a prospecting right … must lodge the application … in the prescribed manner” (section 16(1)(b)). Aquila argued that because Ziza didn’t comply with the mandatory requirements set out in the regulations, its application was a nullity.

The Supreme Court, however, recognised that a third category of statutory requirements had been developed that lay between mandatory and directory requirements. These are statutory requirements that are framed as mandatory requirements but that only require substantial compliance in order to be legally effective.

The Supreme Court endorsed its previously held view that not every deviation from the literal prescription of an act should be fatal. The question that should be asked is “whether, in spite of the defects, the objective of the statutory provision had been achieved” (paragraph 20).

The Supreme Court held that even though Ziza’s application did not strictly comply with the requirements of the MPRDA by including the prescribed coordinated map showing the land that the application extended over, Ziza had substantially complied and had given the DMR sufficient information in order for the DMR to identify the relevant properties and log them onto the application system. The additional information included in Ziza’s application included:

  • hand drawn plans that identified the co-ordinates;
  • the registered descriptions of the farms;
  • the co-ordinates of the total area; and
  • the description of the old order rights in respect of which the application was made, which included the farm details, area size and grid reference.

The Supreme Court held that Ziza had substantially complied with the requirements of the MPRDA and that it could not be suggested that the DMR was unaware of the properties that formed part of Ziza’s application.

On the question of whether a return of the application, as required by the MPRDA at the time, constituted a refusal by the DMR, the Supreme Court held that there is an important distinction between the “return” and the “refusal” of an application – a return is exercised by the regional manager of the DMR and gives the applicant with an opportunity to supplement its application, while a refusal is exercised by the Minister, not the regional manager.

Conclusion

The Aquila judgement doesn’t eliminate the need for applicants to comply with the requirements of the MPRDA in order to ensure that the DMR can’t reject their application.

The judgement does, however, clarify that the statutory requirements in the MPRDA should not be viewed as mandatory (peremptory) requirements that need to be strictly complied with in order to ensure that an application is valid.

This may ensure that an application for a prospecting right will not fail merely if a single statutory requirement was not met, or if a single document was omitted from the application.

The important consideration is if there was sufficient compliance with the requirements in order for the objectives of the MPRDA to be achieved. An application may still be rejected by the DMR, or a prospecting right or mining right may still be set aside, if it can be shown that the level of compliance was insufficient.

Related Reading:

Protecting Important Land Areas

In March 2017 the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa handed down a decision ensuring the continued environmental protection of the Makhonjwa Mountains in Mpumalanga (also known as the Barberton Greenstone Belt). This was necessary despite the area being placed on South Africa’s tentative list of world heritage sites in 2008, and despite the provincial government taking three separate actions in 1985, 1996 and 2014 to ensure that the area was protected.

In the case of Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency v Barberton Mines (Pty) Limited ((216/2016) [2017] ZASCA 9 (14 March 2017)) the court was asked to decide if the Makhonjwa Mountains had legal protection from mining activities, or if a single flawed government notice meant that the government’s ongoing efforts to protect the area was for nothing.

Barberton Mines was granted a prospecting right in terms of the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA). When the company wanted to start their prospecting operations they were denied access to the area by the Parks Agency. The Parks Agency alleged that the company’s prospecting right was invalid and fell to be set aside because it was granted over land that formed part of a protected area in terms of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, No 57 of 2003 (NEMPAA).

The Parks Agency appealed the Minister of Mineral Resource’s decision to grant the prospecting right using the department’s internal process, but the minister rejected this appeal. Barberton Mines then launched a court application in the North Gauteng High Court. The court held that the Makhonjwa Mountains were not protected under NEMPAA, granted Barberton Mines a court order affirming the company’s rights to prospect in the area, and ordered the Parks Agency not to prevent or interfere with the company’s prospecting activities.

Appeal to the Supreme Court

The Parks Agency took the High Court decision on appeal. It argued that the Makhonjwa Mountains is protected under NEMPAA because it is a declared, or designated, protected area. This protection prohibits anyone from conducting commercial prospecting, mining, exploration or production within its boundaries (see section 48).

Barberton Mines counter argued that the actions taken by the provincial government in 1985, 1996 and 2014 were insufficient to declare the Makhonjwa Mountains a protected area in terms of NEMPAA. It argued that the 1985 resolution was invalid because was not issued by the correct authority or published as required, and that the 1996 proclamation was void because it did not adequately describe the area – the resolution only identified the area as “Barberton Nature Reserve”, without any accompanying map or detailed area description.

The Supreme Court of Appeal affirmed that NEMPAA binds the state and trumps any other legislation if there is a conflict on the management or development of protected areas – if an area is validly declared or designated protected area then prospecting operations in the area is prohibited.

The only question that the court had to decide was whether the Makhonjwa Mountains was validly declared as a “protected area” as contemplated by NEMPAA. For this, the court placed emphasis on the 1996 proclamation, finding that it was sufficient to be considered a “declaration” or “designation” required by NEMPAA, albeit that this declaration took place before NEMPAA came into force. The court then turned its attention to Barberton Mines’ argument, and the High Court’s finding, that this proclamation must be found to be void because its description of the area was vague.

The court considered previous cases that dealt with actions to declare laws void for vagueness, including a 1955 Appellate Division case of R v Pretoria Timber Co (Pty) Limited (1950 (3) 163 (A)) that held that “[t]he degree of certainty, clarity or precision that must be present … depends on the circumstances. … The law requires reasonable and not perfect lucidity …”, and a 2006 Constitutional Court case of Affordable Medicines Trust v Minister of Health (2006 (3) SA 247 (CC)) that added that “[t]he doctrine of vagueness must recognise the role of the Government to further legitimate social and economic objectives [a]nd should not be used unduly to impede or prevent the furtherance of such objectives”.

The court stated that common sense must prevail, finding that the 1996 proclamation did not need a “faultless description couched in meticulously accurate terms in order to be valid”, only that the area should be indicated with sufficient certainty.

The court noted that the provincial government had given a particular meaning to the “Barberton Nature Reserve” since 1985. Because the 1996 proclamation is related to the detailed 1985 resolution it couldn’t be argued that people wouldn’t know what area the 1996 proclamation refers to. It is therefore valid for the 1996 proclamation to refer to the area only by name without detailing the exact area description.

The common sense approach adopted by the court is ultimately correct because minor errors in a government declaration shouldn’t prevent the government bodies from performing their important constitutional duties and achieving their social and economic objectives. The Nature of the error is, however, an important consideration. In this case the error had no real effect on the public’s ability to understand the declaration, but this doesn’t mean that in the future the court would turn a blind eye an error that truly introduces uncertainty.

The Parks Agency’s appeal was ultimately successful, effectively preventing Barberton Mines from conducting prospecting in the area which, if not certain before, is now a confirmed “protected area” under NEMPAA.

On a side note, the Supreme Court of Appeal appears to endorse the view that mining operations in a protected area might be permitted in under the MPRDA if the activities are in the national interest (section 48). The court wasn’t asked to decide this issue, but this may be an area of the law open for future debate.

Prospecting Right Applications: The Queuing Conundrum

The laws governing mining rights in South Africa is founded on three principles: (i) the State is the custodian of all minerals; (ii) any person may apply for a right to prospect on a first come first served basis; and (iii) a use it or lose principle applies to rights. These principles ensure a system that encourages active prospecting and prevents people from holding onto rights without using them to prevent others from actively prospecting.

The application procedure is a system of queuing – the first to submit an application is in the front of the queue, and all subsequent applications form a queue behind the first which can only be considered once the first application has been rejected.

An unresolved legal question was whether a company can submit a non-compliant application as a placeholder in the queue, and then later amend the application to make sure it is compliant.

The recent Gauteng High Court decision in Aquila Steel (South Africa) Limited v the Minister of Mineral Resources and others (72248/15) promised guidance on the proper application of the principles governing the application procedure, which it indeed gave, but an important aspect of the decision mustn’t be overlooked. The laws that the court applied to come to its decision have been amended.

In this note I’ll consider if the court’s decision, and if the amendment of the the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA) will affect its application.

This decision has, however, been successfully appealed, which I discuss here.

The courts reasoning in the Aquila Steel judgement

This case dealt with two conflicting prospecting rights granted over the same land for the same mineral.

On 19 April 2005 Ziza Limited (Ziza) submitted a prospecting right application. The application was, however, incomplete because it didn’t comply with the prescribed requirements – it omitted the prescribed plan showing the land over which the application applied.

On 18 April 2006 Aquila submitted prospecting right application, which was granted on 11 October 2006.

On 26 February 2008 Ziza’s prospecting right application was granted. There were now two rights granted over the same land for the same minerals.

On 14 December 2010 Aquila applied for a mining right. This application was, however, now refused by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) because of Ziza’s prior application that the DMR said was in queue before Aquila’s.

The court had to decide which application was first in queue and should be considered.

Aquila argued that Ziza’s application was not complete and that the defects meant it had to be rejected by the DMR – this rejection would result in the application falling out of the queue and leave Aquila’s application as next in line. Ziza counter argued that a defect in an application doesn’t mean that the application automatically fails and has to be rejected by the DMR, but that a defective application can be amended to remedy defects without losing its place in the queue.

Does a prospecting right applicant lose their place at the front of the queue if their application doesn’t comply with the formal requirements of the MPRDA? To answer this question the court applied the wording of section 16(3) of the MPRDA as it read at the time when the applications were submitted and decided:

“If the application does not comply with the requirements of this section, the Regional Manager must notify the applicant in writing of the fact within 14 days of receipt of the application and return the application to the applicant.” (own emphasis).

Previous section 16(3) of the MPRDA

The crux was to determine what notifying and “returning the application to the applicant” meant. Did this mean the application was rejected, or that the process was merely suspended to allow the applicant to amend the application without losing its place in the queue?

The court considered the objective of the act to prevent sterilisation of minerals. This would be hindered if the return of the application allowed the applicant to amend a defective application – the act didn’t specify any timelines that the amendment must be done, meaning that an applicant could delay the entire procedure by not amending the application (or taking years to amend as in the present case), effectively sterilising the minerals by preventing other companies from applying for prospecting rights over the land.

The court also considered the practicalities of “returning the application”. This means the DMR has no record of the application other than the day that it was received and returned. Crucially the DMR wouldn’t have records of the minerals or land that the application related to.

The court concluded that a “return” was a rejection meaning the application fell out of the queue. An applicant could amend the application but the resubmitted application must be treated as a new application and fall behind any other applications in the queue.

Ziza’s non-compliance meant that its application fell out of the queue. Aquila’s application would accordingly have to be considered because it was the next application in the queue.

Current position under the MPRDA

The Aquila case applied the provisions of the MPRDA as they read between 2005 and 2013, the years when the decisions were taken. This means that the court’s reasoning may not apply to decisions taken after the amendment of the act.

The MPRDA was amended on 13 June 2013, and the amended provisions must be applied to any decisions taken by the DMR after this date. Section 16(3) now reads:

“If the application does not comply with the requirements of this section, the Regional Manager must notify the applicant in writing of the fact within 14 days of receipt of the application.” (own emphasis).

Section 16(3) of the MPRDA

The amendment removes the requirement to return a non-compliant application – the very requirement that the court considered when deciding the Aquila case.

Under the amended section the DMR must only notify the applicant that its application is non-compliant. The DMR still can’t accept non-compliant applications, but it now doesn’t have an obligation to return them. Does the non-return of the application change the application of the Aquila judgement and mean that there is no rejection of the application? Does this now give an applicant an opportunity to remedy its applications non-compliance without losing its place in the queue?

In my opinion the amended section 16 of the MPRDA does not change the application of the Aquila decision. The amended section doesn’t alleviate the concerns in the Aquila judgement around the sterilisation of minerals if the applicant possibly has an unlimited period to remedy its applications non-compliance.

In terms of the amended section the applicant is still notified of the non-compliance. This notification itself would be an administrative action taken by the DMR, and would be a rejection of the application in line with the Aquila judgement. The non-return of the application merely alleviates the DMR’s burden and costs associated with returning voluminous applications.

Conclusion

The Aquila judgement highlights the need for prospecting right applicants to make sure that their application complies with all the formal requirements of the MPRDA before submission.

If an application is non-compliant the DMR must reject the application. The applicant can remedy the defects, but the resubmitted application will be regarded as a new application, and fall last in the application queue.

There have been amendments to the MPRDA removing the DMR’s obligation to return the non-compliant application, but this amendment would not alter the application of the legal principles decided in the Aquila judgement.

Related Reading:

The Effect of Local Zoning Laws when Applying for a Mining Right

When a person is applying for a prospecting or mining right in South Africa, emphasis is placed on ensuring compliance with the provisions of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA) and other applicable national legislation that regulates environmental management.

An area of legal compliance that is sometimes overlooked is the need to comply with provincial and local land use and zoning restrictions. These can prevent mining operations even if a mining right has been granted in terms of the MPRDA. If there is a town planning ordinance that restricts the right to mine unless the land is appropriately zoned for mining, then the holder of a mining right or permit must get land use planning authorisation before starting with operations.

The failure to consider land zoning could therefore have dire consequences on a project.

To understand the interaction of national, provincial and local legislation in South Africa, some background on the different spheres of government is useful.

The interaction between national, provincial and local legislation

In South Africa the power to pass laws is divided into three government spheres – national, provincial and local (section 43 of the Constitution). Each sphere is allowed to pass legislation governing the areas that it exercises control over. The control might be exclusive or concurrent control that is exercised jointly.

The national legislature has the power to pass laws that govern any matter as long as the matter is not in the exclusive control of the provincial government (section 44(1)(a) of the Constitution). The provincial government has more limited powers – it exercises concurrent power with the national legislature in some areas, but it also has exclusive powers in other areas (section 44(1)(b) of the Constitution).

Areas of concurrent national and provincial competence include the administration of indigenous forests, the environment, regional planning and development, and urban and rural development (schedule 4 of the Constitution). The areas where the provincial government exercises exclusive legislative competence, and where the national legislature has no power to govern, include provincial planning, and provincial roads and traffic regulation (schedule 5 of the Constitution). A full list of the different functional areas is included at the end of this note.

When applying national and provincial legislation you have to ask, if an activity is permitted by national legislation can that activity then be restricted by provincial legislation or local by-laws? In the context of mining, if a person is permitted to mine in terms of the MPRDA, which is national legislation applicable throughout the entire Republic, can they then be prevented from mining if provincial legislation places additional requirements that must be met before starting with the mining activities?

A conflict between land use and zoning restrictions, and the right to mine

The question whether local land use and zoning restrictions can restrict a person’s right to mine in terms of a mining permit was considered in 2012 by the South African Constitutional Court in the Maccsand case (CCT 103/11 [2012] ZACC 7).

Maccsand was granted two mining permits. One to mine the “Rocklands dunes” in a residential area zoned as public open space, and the second to mine the “Westridge dunes”, also in a residential area but situated on three erven zoned as public open space and rural areas. The City of Cape Town brought legal action against Maccsand to stop all mining activities on the dunes until the land was rezoned to allow for mining.

The legal action to stop the mining activities was brought because Maccsand had not complied with the provincial Land Use Planning Ordinance 15 of 1985 (LUPO), which prohibits the use of land for purposes that are not permitted in the zoning scheme or regulations. LUPO provides that if a person wants to undertake mining activities, these activities can only be undertaken if the land zoning scheme permits it or if a departure is granted.

It was argued in support of Maccsand that a right to mine can’t be limited by local land use and zoning restrictions because the regulation of mining fell in the national sphere of government. It was argued that the permit granted in terms of the national legislation authorising mining could not be limited by local land use and zoning restrictions because the limitation would be an intrusion by the local sphere of government into an area falling in the national sphere.

The court recognised that there is a natural overlap between land use and mining because mining will always take place on land, but stated that overlaps in the competencies of national and local government may be permitted. LUPO governs the use of all land in the Western Cape Province, which is a function of the local sphere of government in terms of the Constitution – it doesn’t regulate mining.

Because of the overlap of competencies between the MPRDA and LUPO, the granting of a mining right doesn’t automatically exclude the application of LUPO, and it doesn’t mean that the MPRDA trumps the provisions of LUPO – indeed the MPRDA itself states clearly that a mining right is subject to any other applicable law, such as LUPO (section 23(6) of the MPRDA).

The court found against Maccsand, holding that there is no conflict between the MPRDA and LUPO, and that it is permissible under the Constitution if mining can’t take place in terms of the MPRDA until the land is rezoned in terms of applicable land use and zoning restrictions.

The need to assess restrictions according to the operations location and time of commencement

The Maccsand case dealt with a provincial ordinance enacted by the Provincial Counsel of the former Cape of Good Hope, but it illustrates an important legal principle applicable in all of South Africa’s provinces – the right to conduct mining activities in terms of the MPRDA can be restricted by provincial and local land use and zoning restrictions.

The different provinces in South Africa have different land use and zoning restrictions. This means that a mining right holder must look at the provincial legislation applicable in the province where operations are intended in order to determine if there are provincial restrictions restrict mining operations. If so, then it is necessary to determine what approvals are needed from the local authority before starting operations.

Over and above determining if there are land use and zoning restrictions, it is also necessary to determine what provincial legislation that was applicable at the time that operations commenced because the present legislation might not always be applicable.

This was illustrated in the Mtunzini Conservancy v Tronox KZN Sands (Pty) Ltd case (Mtunzini Conservancy v Tronox KZN Sands (Pty) Ltd and another [2013] 2 All SA 69 (KZD)). The facts of this case were strikingly similar to the Maccsand case, but the court distinguished the two cases and held that in the Mtunzini Conservancy case the current provincial legislation could not be used to prevent Tronox from continuing with its mining operations.

In 1988 Tronox was granted a single right to mine mineralised sand dunes over two discontinuous areas of land, referred to as the Hillendale and Fairbreeze properties. When the right was granted in terms of the old Minerals Act, No 50 of 1991, Tronox planned to mine the Hillendale property first and then later mine the Fairbreeze property. This was reflected in the company’s mining authorisations.

In 2012 when the company started to plan its mining activities on the Fairbreeze property the Mtunzini Conservancy objected, and brought legal action against Tronox to stop all mining activities on the dunes. The Mtunzini Conservancy relied directly on the Maccsand case and argued that Tronox couldn’t start with any construction activities on the Fairbreeze property until it was granted development approval in terms of the provincial KwaZulu-Natal Planning and Development Act No. 6 of 2008 (the PDA).

The court distinguished the Mtunzini Conservancy case from the Maccsand case based on when the mining operations started and the applicable provincial legislation that was applicable at the relevant time. When the company started with its mining operations in the Maccsand case, unauthorised mining was already prohibited by the provincial legislation (LUPO). This was not the case in the Mtunzini Conservancy case.

In the Mtunzini Conservancy case, when the company started its mining operations in 1988 there was no provincial legislation in place that restricted the intended operations without requiring additional provincial authorisations – the restriction that were being relied on by the Mtunzini Conservancy were only introduced after Tronox had already started its mining operations.

The court held that the application of PDA is not retrospective, and the law that was applicable when the right to mine was granted in 1988 continued to apply. When Tronox was granted the right to mine the Fairbreeze property in 1988 it had complied with all legislation and had been granted all of the necessary authorisations in terms of the then applicable legislation. The court accordingly held that the KwaZulu-Natal Planning and Development Act did not restrict mining operations that had commenced before the act became effective, and that the company’s right to mine the Fairbreeze property is not restricted by the provisions of the PDA which came into effect after the start of the mining operations.

An approach when considering local land use and zoning restrictions

The following approach has been suggested when considering zoning restrictions:

  • is there a town planning scheme promulgated over the land;
  • if so, has the land been zoned for a particular use;
  • if so, does the zoning permit mining;
  • if not, does the town planning scheme have a general exemption for mining;
  • if not, does the town planning scheme make provision for existing land uses, and is the mining activities covered by these provisions;
  • if not, could it be argued that the town planning scheme legally invalid (Dale et al South African Mineral and Petroleum Law Issue 17 app-248).

If the outcome of this line of questioning shows that mining activities on the intended land are restricted, then the holder of a right will have to ensure that the land is rezoned to permit mining before any mining activities take place on the property.

Don’t overlook local zoning laws

Because provincial and local land use and zoning restrictions can prevent mining operations, it is important to consider these early in project planning process in order to ensure that prospecting and mining operations are not halted before they have even had the chance to start.


Provincial legislation to consider

I have included a list of provincial legislation that might become applicable below for the sake of completeness.

Eastern Cape

  • Land Use Planning Ordinance 15 of 1985 (of the former Cape Province);
  • Ciskei Land Use Regulation Act 15 of 1987.

Northern Cape

  • Northern Cape Town Planning and Development Act 7 of 1998;
  • Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act 16 of 2013.

Western Cape

  • Land Use Planning Ordinance 1985 (Western Cape);
  • Western Cape Land Use Planning Act 3 of 2014.

Free State

  • Township Ordinance 9 of 1969 (as amended by the Township Ordinance Amendment Act 10 of 1998).

Gauteng

  • Gauteng Planning and Development Act 3 of 2003;
  • Town Planning and Townships Ordinance 15 of 1986 (Transvaal);
  • Division of Land Ordinance 20 of 1986;
  • Transvaal Board for the Development of Peri-Urban Areas Ordinance 20 of 1943.

KwaZulu Natal

  • KwaZulu-Natal Planning and Development Act 6 of 2008;
  • KwaZulu Land Affairs Act 11 of 1992;
  • KwaZulu Ingonyama Trust Act 3 of 1994;
  • KwaZulu Amakhosi and Iziphakonyiswa Act 9 of 1990.

Limpopo

  • Town Planning and Townships Ordinance 15 of 1986 (Transvaal);
  • Transvaal Board for the Development of Peri-Urban Areas Ordinance 20 of 1943;
  • Venda Proclomation 45 of 1990.

Mpumalanga

  • Town Planning and Townships Ordinance 15 of 1986 (Transvaal);
  • KwaNdebele Town Planning Act 10 of 1992.

North West

  • Town Planning and Townships Ordinance 15 of 1985 (Transvaal);
  • Town Planning and Townships Ordinance 15 of 1986 (Transvaal);
  • Transvaal Board for the Development of Peri-Urban Areas Ordinance 20 of 1943;
  • Bophuthatswana Land Control Act 39 of 1979

2015 Financial Provision Regulations, and Pre-existing Rehabilitation Provisions

To prospect or mine for minerals, or to explore for or produce petroleum resources, a person must have have a licence granted in terms of the MPRDA (the principle act governing mining and production rights) and an environmental authorisation granted in terms of National Environmental Management Act, No 107 of 1998 (NEMA) (the principle act governing environmental management). To get these a guarantee, termed a “financial provision”, must be given to cover the possible cost associated with the management, rehabilitation and remediation of environmental impacts that result from the operations. The financial provision ensures that there is enough funds available to rehabilitate the environmental impacts that the operations may have had once the operations end.

The financial provisions were regulated by the MPRDA, but in the last few years the laws have been amended to bring the regulation of financial provisions under the ambit of NEMA. The new 2015 Financial Provision Regulations published under NEMA came into effect on 20 November 2015.

Some companies are now in a position where they have given the required financial provision, but under the old MPRDA regulations that are not applicable any more. The question is, what steps must now be taken to comply with the new regulations?

The short answer is that the current financial provision is regarded as being issued and approved in terms of the regulations (regulation 17(4)), but steps must be taken in the very near future to review the financial provision and align it with the new requirements (regulation 17(4)).

Methods used to provide the financial provision under the regulations

The three vehicles that were used under the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA) to give the financial provision are all still available under the 2015 Financial Provision Regulations (GN R1147 in GG 39425 of 20 November 2015) (the regulation). These are:

  • financial guarantee issued by a registered bank, insurer or underwriter;
  • cash deposited into an account administered by the Minister of Mineral Resources (Minister); or
  • a contribution to a trust fund established specifically for this purpose (MPRDA regulation 53(1) and regulation 8(1)).

Even though the available vehicles haven’t changed, the format of the financial guarantee and trust deed are now prescribed in the regulations (see appendix 1 and 2), and the permissible uses of trusts has been changed by the new regulations. A full discussion of these falls outside the scope of this note.

Time frame to conduct the review

A holder of a right that was issued before 20 November 2015 (a holder) must conduct a review, assessment and adjustment of its financial provision to ensure that it complies with the new regulations (regulation 17(5)):

  • within 3 months of the end of its first financial year after November 2015; or
  • within 15 months after November 2015 (regulation 17(5)(a) and (b)).

The time frame must be regarded as either/or, so for the first review the holder can choose the most suitable time frame that fits its purposes. The financial provision must then be reviewed annually after the first review (regulation 17(5)(b)).

Procedure to conduct the review

The review, assessment and adjustment of a financial provisions approved under the MPRDA is largely the same as the procedure that is applicable to new financial provisions approved in terms of the regulations (in terms of regulation 17(5) regulation 11 must be applied).

The procedure can be broken down into the following steps.

Step 1: Preparation of the prescribed reports and plans. The holder must prepare the following reports and plans:

  • an annual rehabilitation plan setting out the annual requirements for rehabilitation and remediation;
  • a final rehabilitation, decommissioning and mine closure plan setting out the requirements for the decommissioning and closure of the at the end of life of the operations; and
  • an environmental risk assessment report setting out the requirements for the remediation of latent and residual environmental impacts, including the pumping and treatment of polluted or extraneous water (regulation 11(1)(a), (b) and (c)).

The minimum contents of these plans and reports are prescribed in the regulations (see appendix 3, 4, and 5), so a holder must ensure that the plans and reports are compliant, and that they contain the prescribed minimum information (regulation 12(1), (2), and (3)).

Step 2: Assessment of the adequacy of the current financial provisions. The holder must do an assessment of adequacy in light of the reports and plans, and identify any necessary adjustments that must be made to the financial provisions (regulation 11(2)).

Step 3: Independent audit. The reports, plans and assessment of adequacy must be audited by an independent auditor (regulation 11(3)(a)).

Step 4: Inclusion of the assessment into the environmental audit report. The assessment of adequacy must be included in the environmental audit report that is required in terms of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations 2014 (regulation 11(3)(b)).

Step 5: Submission. A holder must submit the following to the Minister:

  • the independent auditor’s report that sets out the results of the assessment of adequacy;
  • proof of payment or proof of arrangements to make any adjustments to the financial provision; and
  • the prescribed environmental and rehabilitation plans and reports (regulation 11(3)(c)).

Approval of the updated financial provision by the Minister

After receiving the updated financial provision, the Minister has 30 days to:

  • approve the financial provision;
  • refer the provision back to the holder for revision; or
  • refuse to approve the financial provision (regulation 17(10)).

If the Minister refuses to approve the updated financial provision he must provide reasons for the refusal, and he may appoint an independent assessor to review the assessment at the cost of the holder (regulation 17(15)(b) and (c)).

If the Minister refuses to approve the updated financial provision the holder is regarded as being non-compliant with section 24P of NEMA (regulation 17(15)(a)).

Procedure to top up a shortfall in the financial provision

If the review and assessment procedure shows that there is a shortfall in the financial provision, the holder must:

  • increase the financial provision within 90 days from the date of the audit report (regulation 17(16)(a)); and
  • submit proof of payment, or proof of arrangements, to make any adjustments to the financial provision (regulation 17(5) and 11(3)(c)).

The transitional arrangements provide relief to holders if they are unable to increase their financial provision to cover a shortfall. If a holder is not able to increase its financial provision the holder and the Minister may enter into a payment agreement where the holder agrees to increase the financial provision over a period of 5 years or less (regulation 17(7)). The payment agreement must be reviewed annually by the Minister (regulation 17(7)).

Procedure if there is an excess in the financial provision

If the review and assessment procedure shows that the financial provision has an excess of funds, the holder can’t reduce the financial provision, but must defer that excess against future assessments (regulation 17(16)(b)).

Procedure to withdraw a financial guarantees provided under the MPRDA

The regulations that apply to the withdrawal of new financial guarantees approved in terms of the new regulations apply equally to the withdrawal of financial guarantees previously approved under the MPRDA (regulation 17(17)).

If a financial institution wants to withdraw a guarantee:

  • the financial institution must give the Minister at least four months written notice of its intention by registered mail (regulation 8(3)(a)); and
  • the Minister must then give the holder 60 days to provide an alternate arrangement for the financial provision (regulation 8(4)).

If the holder can’t provide an alternate arrangement within the 60 day period, the Minister must call on the financial guarantee. This money is then held by the Minister until an alternate arrangement can be provided for the financial provision (regulation 8(5)).

If the holder does provide an alternate arrangement then the Minister must release the first guarantee within 7 days of receiving the alternate financial provision (regulation 8(6)).

The public’s right of access to information

The holder must make any approved amendment to its environmental management programme available to the public (regulation 17(19)). This may must be:

  • published on the holders public website, if the holder has one;
  • available at the site office of the operations; and
  • accessible to the public on request (regulation 13(1)).

A Primer – Financial Provisions for Environmental Rehabilitation

On 20 November 2015 the Financial Provisioning Regulations 2015 was published and became effective (GN R1147 in GG 39425 of 20 November 2015).

The regulations intend to regulate the financial provisions that holders of rights and permits must give in terms of the National Environmental Management Act, No 107 of 1998 (NEMA) for the cost associated with the management, rehabilitation and remediation of environmental impacts that result from prospecting, exploration, mining or production operations that are undertaken in South Africa (regulation 2 and 3).

This note highlights some of the regulations that holders of rights and permits should be aware of. A note setting out the transitional arrangements for financial provisions can be found here.

The requirement to provide a financial provision

Before conducting any prospecting or mining for minerals, or exploration or production of petroleum resources, a person must be grant granted an environmental authorisation in terms of NEMA (section 5A(a) of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA).

One requirement of being granted the environmental authorisation is that the applicant must provide the prescribed financial provision (section 24P(1) of NEMA). This financial provision is intended to cater for the rehabilitation, closure and on-going post decommissioning management of negative environmental impacts that may arise from the operations.

No prospecting or mining for minerals, or exploration or production of petroleum resources can take place unless the financial provision is in place and an environmental authorisation has been granted.

Methods that can be used to provide the financial provision

There are three financial vehicles that can be used to give the necessary financial provision. These vehicles can be used individually or as a combination. They are (regulation 8(1)):

  • financial guarantee issued by a registered bank, insurer or underwriter;
  • cash that must be deposited into an account administered by the Minister of Mineral Resources (“Minister“); or
  • a contribution to a trust fund established specifically for this purpose, provided that:
    • the trust fund can’t be used for annual rehabilitation, or for the final rehabilitation, decommissioning and closure at the end of life of the operations (regulation 8(1)(c)(i)); and
    • the trust is established in terms of a trust deed that complies with the prescribed format (regulation 8(7)).

Quantum of the financial provision

The financial provision must be equal to the actual costs for implementing the following plans and reports for a period of at least 10 years (regulation 7):

  • rehabilitation and remediation, as reflected in the “annual rehabilitation plan” (regulation 5(a) and 6(a));
  • decommissioning and closure at the end of life of the operations, as reflected in the “final rehabilitation, decommissioning and mine closure plan” (regulation 5(b) and 6(b)); and
  • remediation of latent and residual environmental impacts, including the pumping and treatment of polluted or extraneous water, as reflected in the “environmental risk assessment report” (regulation 5(c) and 6(c)).

These plans and reports are prescribed in the regulations (appendix 3, 4 and 5), so care must be taken to make sure that the plans and reports are compliant, and that they contain the prescribed minimum information (regulation 12(1), (2), and (3)).

The quantum must be determined by a specialist (regulation 9(1)), and in the determination the liability can’t be deferred against any assets at mine closure, or mine infrastructure salvage value (regulation 9(2)).

If the Minister is not satisfied with the determination, the Minister may request that the determination or assessment be:

  • adjusted to a satisfactory amount;
  • reviewed externally by another specialist; or
  • confirmed by an independent assessor (regulation 14(2)(c)).

The holder of the right or permit is responsible for all costs related to the determination or assessment of the financial provision (regulation 14(3)).

Compulsory annual review and adjustment

An annual review of the adequacy of the financial provision must be done (regulation 11(2)), and must be submitted within 3 months of the end of the company’s financial year (regulation 11(3)(c)(ii)). This period can be extended by a maximum of 3 months if an application for extension, with reasons, is submitted to the Minister (regulation 12(7) and (8)).

The results of the assessment must:

  • be audited and signed by an independent auditor;
  • be included in the “environmental audit report” prepared according to the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations 2014;
  • be signed off by the chief executive officer, or person appointed in a similar position, and
  • be submitted to the Minister (regulation 11(3) and 13(3)).

The independent auditor’s declaration must reconcile the financial provision with the estimates of rehabilitation exposure and liabilities (regulation 12(5)), and must include any contingent liabilities and restricted cash that may be associated with the financial provision liability (regulation 12(6)).

If there is a shortfall in the quantum of the financial provision, the financial provision must be increased within 90 days from the signature of the auditor’s report (regulation 11(4)(a)).

Any excess in the quantum of the financial provision can only be deferred against future assessments (regulation 11(4)(b)).

The public’s right of access to information

The holder of a right or permit must make its environmental management programme available to the public (regulation 13(1)).

The environmental management programme must:

  • be published on the holders public website, if the holder has one;
  • be available at the site office of the operations; and
  • be accessible to the public on request.

Placing operations under care and maintenance

A holder of a right or permit must lodge an application with the Minister if they want to place their operations under care and maintenance (regulation 16(1)). No operation may be placed under care and maintenance without the Ministers approval (regulation 16(6)).

The application to place operations under care and maintenance must include:

  • an explanation of the merits of placing the operation under care and maintenance; and
  • a “care and maintenance plan“, that contains the minimum prescribed information (regulation 16(2) and appendix 6).

Permission to place an operation under care and maintenance can be granted for a maximum of 5 years, with or without conditions, and at the end of this period the approval will be reviewed by the Minister (regulation 16(4)).

The care and maintenance plan must be audited and updated annually (regulation 16(5)(b)).

The withdrawal of the financial guarantee by financial institutions

If a financial institution wants to withdraw the guarantee that it has provided for the financial provision:

  • the financial institution must give the Minister at least four months written notice of its intention by registered mail (regulation 8(3)(a)); and
  • the Minister must then give the holder of the right or permit 60 days to provide an alternate arrangement for the required financial provision (regulation 8(4)).

If the holder of the right or permit can’t provide an alternate arrangement within the 60 day period, the Minister must call on the financial guarantee. This money is then held by the Minister until an alternate arrangement can be provided for the financial provision (regulation 8(5)).

If the holder of the right or permit does provide an alternate arrangement then the Minister must release the first guarantee within 7 days of receiving the alternate financial provision.

A Primer – National Water Act

The National Water Act, No 36 of 1998 (NWA) was enacted to ensure that water resources are protected and conserved in a sustainable and equitable manner (sections 2 and 3). The entitlement to use water is regulated by requiring a user to acquire a water use licence before commencing with various activities.

Definition of “water use”

“Water use” is defined broadly in the NWA, and includes:

  • taking water from a water resource;
  • storing water;
  • impeding or diverting the flow of water in a watercourse;
  • discharging of waste water into a water resource;
  • altering the bed, banks, course or characteristics of a watercourse; and
  • removing or disposing of water found underground (section 21).

Requirement for a water use licence

A water use licence is required is for any water use unless the water use:

  • falls in the list of permissible uses that are set out in schedule 1;
  • is permitted in terms of a general authorisation that are published by notice in the government gazette; or
  • was a continuation of an existing lawful use prior to the commencement of the NWA (section 22).

A person is not automatically entitled to use water for prospecting, mining, exploration or production solely because a right has been granted for the activity in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA) (section 5(3)(d)). The use of water for these activities are still regulated by the Water Act and a separate water use licence is needed if the water use falls outside of the scope of the general authorisations under the NWA.

The general authorisations issued in terms of the NWA allows prospecting, mining, and quarrying companies, and other “small industrial users”, to use and store certain quantities of groundwater and surface water without needing a water licence (item 1.7 of GN 399 in GG 26187 of 26 March 2004).

The specific quantities are allowed, are however, dependant on the drainage regions where the activities will take place, and are subject to the water use not being excessive or detrimental to other water users.

Even if the water use falls within the authorisation and a water licence is not required, a water user may still be required to register as a water user.

Before commencing with any activities that may need water, it is necessary for a person to determine if the use of water is regulated by the NWA, and if so:

  • are the activities exempted from requiring a water licence because the quantities fall within the thresholds set out in the general authorisations;
  • is registration as a water user required even though a separate water use licence is not needed?

A Primer – National Environmental Management Protected Areas Act

The National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, No 57 of 2003 (NEMPAA) is a complimentary act to the National Environmental Management Act, No 107 of 1998 (NEMA). NEMPAA aims to provide for the protection and conservation of ecologically viable areas that are representative of South Africa’s biological diversity. This objective is accomplished through the declaration and management of protected these identified areas (section 2).

The restrictions on the development of protected areas in NEMPAA are in addition to any restrictions placed on prospecting or mining of minerals, or exploration or production of petroleum resources, in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA). In the event of any conflicts between these two acts, the provisions of NEMPAA will prevail if the conflict concerns the management or development of protected areas (NEMPAA section 7(1)(a)).

The MPRDA prohibits any right for the prospecting or mining of minerals from being granted over residential areas, public roads, public railways, public cemeteries, land being used for public or government purposes or over any other area identified by the Minister of Mineral Resources, unless the minister is satisfied that the granting of the right is in the national interest, the operations will take place within the framework of the national environmental policies and the interests of other holders of prospecting or mining rights will not be adversely affected (section 48).

Restrictions imposed by NEMPAA

In addition to the restrictions under the MPRDA, NEMPAA could potentially affect the mineral and petroleum industry in two ways. First, despite being granted the required mineral right in terms of the MPRDA, no person may conduct prospecting, mining, exploration or any related activities in any:

  • nature reserve or national park;
  • protected environment without the prescribed permissions;
  • world heritage site;
  • marine protected area; or
  • protected forest areas, forest nature reserves and forest wilderness areas that have been declared in terms of the National forests Act, No 84 of 1998 (section 48(1) and 48A(1)(g)).

Further, if an area has been or is proposed to be declared as part of a national protected area or as part of a national park after a mineral right is granted, the responsible minister is empowered to expropriate or cancel a mineral right, servitude or any other privately held right in the land (sections 80, 81, 82 and 84). When cancelling or expropriating any rights the provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and the Expropriation Act, No 63 of 1975, are applicable. These require the right holder to be compensated for the expropriated right.

A Primer – National Environmental Management Act

The National Environmental Management Act, No 107 of 1998 (NEMA) is the principle act that governs environmental management in South Africa. NEMA was enacted with the objectives of ensuring sustainable development and use of natural resources. This act is complimented by other specific environmental management acts, each regulating more specific environmental concerns. These complimentary acts include the NEMA: Protected Areas Act, NEMA: Biodiversity Act and the National Water Act.

During 2013 and 2014 NEMA and the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA) underwent a series of amendments. These amendments sought to remove all of the provisions regulating environmental management from the MPRDA and insert provisions to regulate the mineral and petroleum industry into NEMA. This created a single environmental management system that now regulates environmental management in South Africa.

Environmental authorisations in terms of NEMA

The key provisions in NEMA that are applicable to the mineral and petroleum industry are that must be considered is the requirement to obtain regulatory approval before commencing with certain listed activities (section 23 and 24). Before any prospecting, mining, exploration or production of mineral or petroleum resources, or any other incidental work, can be undertaken a person must granted an environmental authorisation in terms of NEMA in addition to the permit or right required in terms of the MPRDA (section 5A(a) and (b) of the MPRDA and section 24 of NEMA).

The application for the required environmental authorisation is done as part of the application for a right or permit in terms of the MPRDA. When submitting an application for a right or permit in terms of the MPRDA an applicant is required to submit an environmental management programme (section 24N(1A) of NEMA), also referred to as an EMP, within the following periods once an application has been accepted:

  • Prospecting Right: 60 days (section 16(4)(a) of the MPRDA);
  • Mining Right: 180 days (section 22(4)(a) of the MPRDA);
  • Mining Permit: Simultaneously (section 27(2) of the MPRDA);
  • Reconnaissance Permit: 60 days (section 74(4)(b) of the MPRDA);
  • Exploration Right: 120 days (section 79(4)(b) of the MPRDA);
  • Production Right: 180 days (section 83(4)(b) of the MPRDA).

It must be kept in mind that NEMA regulates more than just the mineral and petroleum industry. As a result, some activities that are conducted as part of the mining or production operations might be regulated separately under NEMA. Depending on the circumstances the EMP that is submitted as part of the MPRDA application procedure might have to be extended to address these additional incidental activities or a separate environmental authorisation might need to be considered. Some of the additional listed activities that could be applicable to the mineral and petroleum industry are:

  • the construction of infrastructure for the generation of electricity;
  • the construction of coal storage facilities;
  • construction of facilities for the bulk transportation of sewerage or storm water;
  • construction of canals, bridges, dams, reservoirs and bulk storm water outlets;
  • earth moving activities in, or within one hundred meters of the sea, an estuary or littoral active zone;
  • construction of roads with a reserve wider than thirteen and a half meters or without a reserve wider than eight meters;
  • the physical alteration of more than twenty hectares of undeveloped land for industrial use;
  • construction of railway lines; and
  • the bulk transport of dangerous goods.

Additional considerations in NEMA

In addition to the requirement to obtain authorisation to conduct certain activities, NEMA also regulates the following matters that should be taken into consideration:

  • the requirement to provide a “financial provision“, such as a bank guarantee, that can be used to undertake rehabilitation and mine closure (section 24P);
  • performance monitoring and assessment (section 24Q);
  • the management of residue stockpiles and residue deposits, including discard, tailings, dumps and waste rock (section 24S); and
  • the continuing environmental obligations and mine closure requirements (section 24R).

A Primer – Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act

Since 1 May 2004 the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA) has been the principle piece of legislation that regulates the South African mineral and petroleum sector. This act will generally be applicable to any project that involves the any prospecting for or mining of minerals, or any exploration for or production of petroleum resources.

The MPRDA was enacted with the objectives of promoting local and rural development, ensuring equal access to minerals, and eradicating discriminatory practices in the industry, while still guaranteeing security of tenure to participants in the industry and increasing the industries international competitiveness.

One of the fundamental changes that were brought about by the MPRDA was the abolishment of the right for persons to privately own minerals and petroleum rights. The state is now the custodian of all mineral and petroleum resources and these resources are held by the state for the benefit of all South Africans (section 3(1)). To ensure security of tenure for holders of mineral and petroleum rights that were held under the previous mineral regime, these holders were granted a five year period to convert their rights to a right issued in terms of the MPRDA.

The requirement to be granted a licence

Before conducting any prospecting or mining of minerals, or exploration or production of petroleum resources, a person must first be granted a permit or right from the Department of Mineral Resources authorising the intended activity.

The MPRDA regulates minerals and petroleum as defined in the act. These terms are defined broadly but the definitions do contain exceptions.

A mineral is defined as any solid, liquid or gaseous substance occurring naturally in or on the earth or in or under water that was formed by or subjected to geological processes. Importantly, the definition of “mineral” includes sand, stone, rock, gravel, clay and soil, and all minerals in residue stockpiles or residue deposits (including dumps, debris, discard, tailings and slimes) (section 1). The definition of mineral excludes water and peat (section 1).

Petroleum is defined as any liquid, solid hydrocarbon or combustible gas existing in a natural condition in the earth’s crust. The definition excludes coal, bituminous shale, stratified deposits from which oil can be obtained by destructive, distillation, and gasses rising from marshes or other surface deposits (section 1).

The licence application procedure

Before conducting any prospecting or mining of minerals, or exploration or production of petroleum resources, a person must:

  • be granted a right by the Minister of Mineral Resources authorising the intended activity in terms of the MPRDA (section 5A(b));
  • be granted an environmental authorisation in terms of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) (section 5A(a));
  • conduct consultations with all landowners and other persons that could be interested in, or affected by, the intended operations; and
  • give the landowner or occupier of the land at least twenty one days’ notice of the intended activities (section 5A(c)).

The application procedure for a right is designed to ensure that the objectives of the MPRDA are promoted by ensuring that all interested and affected parties are notified of the application and that the black economic empowerment objectives in the MPRDA are also promoted.

All interested and affected parties must be notified of the pending application and are called upon to raise any objection that they may have against the application (section 10). The applicant is also required to hold consultations with the landowners and occupiers of the property and all other interested and affected parties (sections 16(4)(b), 22(4)(b) and 27(5)(a)).

Broad based black economic empowerment requirements (local participation)

The black economic empowerment objectives in the MPRDA are promoted during the application procedure. The empowerment objectives require the promotion of access to resources and the expansion of opportunities for disadvantaged persons, women and communities to enter into the mineral and petroleum industry.

Before a prospecting right, mining right, exploration right or production right is granted the minister must be satisfied that the granting of the right will substantially and meaningfully expand the opportunities for these groups (sections 17(1)(f), 23(1)(h), 80(1)(g) and 84(1)(i) as read with section 2(d)).

The empowerment requirements are expanded on in the Broad-Based Socio-Economic Empowerment Charter for the South African Mining and Metals Industry that was published in 2010. The charter has various elements that must be complied with to ensure that the project will satisfy the empowerment requirements and qualify for a licence.

Generally, in order for the empowerment objectives to be satisfied and the application to be granted a minimum of twenty six per cent of the project should be owned by historically disadvantaged South Africans, and historically disadvantaged South Africans should participate in the management of the company.

Categories of licences that can be granted in terms of the MPRDA

The following licences can be granted in terms of the MPRDA:

To prospect for minerals:

  • A reconnaissance permission:
    • Granted for a non-renewable period of 1 year (section 14).
    • Allows only for the search of minerals by geological, geophysical and photo geological surveys or through the use of remote sensing techniques (section 5A as read with section 1).
  • A prospecting right:
    • Granted for a maximum period of 5 years (section 17(6)).
    • Renewable for 1 further single period that can’t exceed 3 years (section 18(4)).
    • Allows for prospecting by any means, including methods that disturb the surface or subsurface of the earth, whether on land, under sea or under water (section 5A read with section 1).
    • Diamonds and bulk samples of other minerals that are found during the prospecting operations can only be disposed of with the consent of the minister (section 20(2)). This consent is typically granted in the form of a bulk sampling permit.

To mine for minerals

  • A mining right:
    • Granted for a maximum period of 30 years (section 23(6)).
    • Renewable for further periods. Each further period may not exceed 30 years (section 24(4)).
  • A mining permit:
    • A mining permit is intended for small scale mining operations and may only be issued if (i) the mineral can be mined optimally in 2 years; and (ii) the area is 5 hectares or less.
    • Granted for a maximum period of 2 years (section 27(8)(a)).
    • May be renewed a maximum of 3 times. Each renewal may not be longer than 1 year (section 27(8)(b)).

To explore for petroleum

  • A reconnaissance permit:
    • Granted for a non-renewable period of 1 year (section 74(4)).
    • Allows only for the search of petroleum by geological, geophysical and photo geological surveys or through the use of remote sensing techniques (section 5A as read with section 1).
  • A technical cooperation permit:
    • Granted for a non-renewable period of 1 year (section 77(4)).
    • Allows the holder to conduct a technical cooperation study and grants the holder the exclusive right to later apply for an exploration right over the area (section 77(4) and section 78(1)).
  • An exploration right:
    • Granted for a maximum period of 3 years (section 80(5)).
    • May be renewed a maximum of 3 times. Each renewal may not be longer than 2 years (section 81(5)).

To produce petroleum

  • A production right:
    • Granted for a maximum period of 30 years (section 84(4)).
    • Renewable for further periods. Each further period may not exceed 30 years (section 85(4)).

A Guide to the Mineral and Petroleum Industry in South Africa

What laws apply to the mineral and petroleum industry in South Africa? What potential pitfalls must a person look out for when they consider entering into these industries in South Africa?

Unfortunately this isn’t an easy or quick question to answer because the applicable laws and regulations will depend on the projects scope and characteristics – the intended mining or production activities, infrastructure requirements and the project location. But there are two acts that can serve as a starting point. The principle act regulating the mineral and petroleum sector is the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA), and the principle act regulating environmental management is the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA).

In any project it may, however, be necessary to consider various other laws and regulations. The purpose of this note is to give a starting point for a more in depth exploration of the laws applicable to the mineral and petroleum industry.

The following list has links to discussions on some of the acts and regulations in South Africa that may be considered. This list is unfortunately incomplete and non-exhaustive.

Mineral and petroleum licensing and permitting

Environmental management

Water management

Taxation

  • Income Tax Act, No 58 of 1962 (Income Tax Act);
  • Mineral and Petroleum Resources Royalty Act, No 28 of 2008 (Royalty Act);
  • Mineral and Petroleum Resources Royalty (Administration) Act, No 29 of 2008 (Royalty Admin Act).

Industry specific legislation:

  • Diamonds Act, No 56 of 1986 (Diamonds Act);
  • Petroleum Products Act, No 120 of 1977 (Petroleum Products Act);
  • Precious Metals Act, No 37 of 2005 (Precious Metals Act).

When the Minister of Mineral Resources Ignores You

If a commercial transaction is concluded with a person that holds a right issued by the Department of Mineral Resources (“the department”) care must be exercised to ensure that the required regulatory approvals needed for the implementation of the transaction has been granted. Examples of commercial transactions that need ministerial approval in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA) before they can be implemented include agreements that would result in:

  • a transfer a prospecting right or mining right, for example a sale, cession or donation of the right;
  • a transfer any interest in prospecting right or mining right, for example the transfer of an undivided share in a right; and
  • a transfer a controlling interest in a company holds a prospecting right or mining right, for example a sale of shares agreement or an issue and allotment of new shares resulting in a change of control (section 11(1) of the MPRDA).

To get consent to implement these transactions a formal application must be submitted to the department. Unfortunately, the legislation does not provide any maximum time limits that are applicable when considering the application. In most cases an application submitted to the department is approved without too much delay, but in some cases months, if not years, may pass without the application for consent being considered.

Delays in the approval process can have drastic consequences on commercial transactions because without the required consent they can’t become effective and can’t be implemented by the parties. What can a person do if there is a significant delay in the approval process after the application for ministerial consent has been submitted? The most common answer is for a person to bring an application to court, and ask the court to grant an order forcing the department to perform its duty. This court relief is referred to as a mandatory interdict, or a mandamus. In many situations this relief would be a sufficient; the matter is referred back to the department for consideration within a court specified time line.

The purpose of this article is, however, to explore alternate legal remedies that could be used if there is a significant delay in the approval process. Particularly:

  • Can a person bring a court application for a court order granting an application that was submitted in terms of the MPRDA, without the need to refer the matter back to the minister for consideration?

The general right to just administrative action

Any action taken by an organ of state must be (i) lawful; (ii) reasonable; and (iii) procedurally fair. If an action does not meet with these requirements a person who has been affected by the action has the right to approach a court to “review” the infringing action, and ask the court for appropriate relief. This right of judicial review stems from the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996 (the Constitution), and is given effect by the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act 3 of 2000 (PAJA) (in particular see section 33 of the Constitution).

Both actions and inactions of the government can be reviewed by a court. This is because an “administrative action” is defined to include any decision taken, or the failure or refusal to take a decision, by an organ of state when exercising a public power or performing a public function in terms of legislation (the definition of “administrative action” as read with the definition of “failure” contained in section 1).

A court has wide powers when reviewing an administrative decision (see section 8 of PAJA). In cases where the government’s administrative action amounts to the failure or refusal to take a decision, then the court may grant any order that it just and equitable, including an order:

  • directing the taking of a decision; or
  • declaring the rights of the parties in relation to the taking of a decision.

Accordingly, if the minister fails to consider an application that has been submitted by a person in terms of the MPRDA, the ministers inaction will be “an administrative action”, and falls within the ambit of PAJA. Under these circumstances a person should be able to approach the court for appropriate relief.

The right to approach a court directly for relief in terms of PAJA is, however, curtailed if the applicable legislation, such as the MPRDA, contains an internal appeal procedure (section 6(2)(g) and 7(2)(a) of PAJA).

Court action versus the department’s internal appeal process

A person’s right to approach the court to review an administrative decision in terms of PAJA is not unlimited. A person can’t approach a court until any internal appeal process in the applicable law, such as the MPRDA, has been exhausted (section 7(2)(a) of PAJA). It is intended that a person’s first port of call should be the legislated internal appeal procedure. A person can only approach a court if the applicable act doesn’t have an appeal procedure, or after the appeal procedure has been followed. Exceptions to this rule do, however, exist, and a person is entitled to approach the court directly without first exhausting the internal appeal procedure is there are “exceptional circumstances” (section 7(2)(c) of PAJA).

To phrase these requirements differently, a court can be approached to review an administrative action if:

  • an internal appeal was submitted but it was unsuccessful (section 7(2)(a) of PAJA); or
  • the particular law has no internal appeal procedure that is applicable; or
  • the particular law has an internal appeal procedure, but there are exceptional circumstances that are applicable, the court exempts the applicant from having to follow the internal appeal procedure (section 7(2)(c) of PAJA).

What is the correct legal process if the minister fails to consider an application that has been submitted by a person in terms of the MPRDA? This will depend on whether the MPRDA contains an internal remedy that can be relied on when the minister fails to take any action.

Can the MPRDA’s internal appeal procedure be used when the minister fails to take a decision?

Is there an internal appeal in situations where the minister fails to take a decision, or does the internal appeal procedure in the MPRDA only apply to decisions that have actually been taken? Is it correct to argue that the internal appeal procedure must be followed in a situation where the minister fails to make a decision in terms of the MPRDA?

If the internal appeal procedure doesn’t apply to a failure to take a decision then there will be no requirement to institute an internal appeal. In these circumstances a person will be entitled to approach the court immediately without having to prove that there are exceptional circumstances that allow the court to exempt the person from the internal appeal requirements.

In order to answer this question the internal appeal procedure that is set out in the MPRDA must be examined.

The internal appeal procedure in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act

The MPRDA has an internal appeal process that can be relied on in some circumstances (section 96). This internal appeal process can be summarised as follows:

  • A person is prohibited from applying to court for the review of an “administrative decision” of the department until they have exhausted the remedies set out in the MPRDA (section 96(3)).
  • A person whose rights or legitimate expectations have been materially and adversely affected, or who is aggrieved by any “administrative decision”, may appeal within 30 days of becoming aware of such administrative decision (section 96(1)), setting out:
    • the actions appealed against; and
    • the grounds on which the appeal is based (regulation 74(2)).
  • A copy of the appeal will be dispatched by the department to:
    • the person in the department responsible for the administrative decision, who must then within 21 days submit written reasons for the administrative decision appealed against (regulations 74(5)(a) and 74(6)); and
    • any other person, whose rights may be affected by the outcome of the appeal, who must then within 21 days submit a replying submission indicating the extent and nature of his or her rights, and how they will be affected by the appeal (regulations 74(5)(a) and 74(7)).
  • The department will then dispatch the written reasons and any replying submissions that it received to the appellant, and the appellant is then afforded 21 days to reply to these reasons and submissions (regulation 74(8)).
  • Within 30 days from the receipt of the appellant’s response, the minister or director-general must either:
    • confirm the administrative decision concerned;
    • set aside the administrative decision concerned;
    • amend the administrative decision concerned; or
    • substitute any other administrative decision for the administrative decision concerned (regulation 74(9).
  • The lodging of an appeal does not suspend the administrative decision, unless it is suspended by the director-general or the minister (section 96(2)(a)).

Does this procedure apply when the minister fails to take a decision?

As discussed, a person does not have the right to approach a court to review any administrative action unless any internal appeal procedure in the MPRDA has been exhausted or unless there are exceptional circumstances that allow the court to exempt the person from the internal appeal requirements.

The MPRDA does have an internal appeal process (section 96), but does the MPRDA’s internal appeal procedure apply in situations where the minister fails to take a decision?

An “administrative action” is defined in PAJA to include the failure to take a decision, but the MPRDA’s appeal procedure doesn’t use this term. The MPRDA’s internal appeal procedure states that it applies to “administrative decisions”, a term that is not defined.

The wording and context of the internal appeal procedure supports a conclusion that the term “administrative decision” can only relate to decisions that have actually been taken, and doesn’t apply to a failure to take a decision:

  • The MPRDA requires that any “decision taken” must be taken within a reasonable time, must be in writing, and must be accompanied by written reasons for the decision (sections 6(1) and (2)). In a situation where the minister has failed to consider an application there will be no “decision” taken. This non-decision is not capable of being reduced to writing, and similarly it will not be possible to give any reasons for the non-decision.
  • An internal appeal must be lodged within 30 days of becoming aware of the administrative decision (section 96(1)). It is impossible to comply with this requirement if no positive action is taken, especially when the MPRDA does not prescribe a fixed duration during which the decision must be taken. If the minister has an indeterminable amount of time to consider the application, when must this 30 day period be calculated from?
  • The internal appeal procedure is worded to apply to an administrative decision that “was taken” (section 96(1)(b)). The language of the section clearly implies that there must have been some form of act by the minister, not just a failure to take a decision.
  • The internal appeal procedure does not automatically suspend the decision that is appeal against (section 96(2)(a)). In a situation where there has been no decision at all, this provision can’t be applied because there is nothing to suspend.
  • As part of the internal appeal procedure, a person must be provided with written reason by the person who took the decision that is appealed against (regulations 74(5) and 74(6)). In a case where no decision has been taken at all, it is not possible for the department to comply with the regulation and give “written reasons for the administrative decision”.

The conclusion that the term “administrative decision” can only relate to decisions that have actually been taken, and not to a failure to take a decision, can also be demonstrated by considering what the final appeal procedure could be if the term “administrative decision” did include the failure to take an action.

  • What would the legal situation then be if the minister either failed or refused to consider the appeal in the required time lines?
  • An internal appeal would be submitted, and it would request that the minister either (i) amends the department’s failure to take a decision; or (ii) substitutes the failure to take a decision with a positive decision to grant the application (regulations 74(9)(c) and (d)).
  • What would the legal situation then be if the minister ignored an application that was submitted an internal appeal would have to be lodged with the department against this failure to take a decision.
    • Would this failure to consider the appeal fall also under the definition of an “administrative decision” in terms of the MPRDA? Would a person be prevented from applying to a court to review the failure to consider the appeal until the internal remedies in the MPRDA have been exhausted, requiring the appellant to lodge a second internal appeal against the ministers failure to determine the first appeal (section 96(3))?
    • Must the person now bring an application to court, and ask the court to grant an order forcing the minister to perform their duty and determine the first appeal (ie a mandamus)? If so, then the person has now expended considerable time and resources to bring a court action just to place it in the same position where it was immediately after lodging the appeal, namely its appeal has been lodged and the minister is now compelled (in terms of the court order this time) to comply with the required time lines.
  • When the minister considers the appeal, the minister may decide that the appeal fails, and to substitute the failure to take a decision with a decision to refuse the application.
    • In this case the person will then have to lodge an internal appeal against the ministers decision to refuse the application.
    • Once the internal appeal procedure has been exhausted, the applicant would then only be entitled to approach a court to review the administrative action.

This process is a far cry away from that an internal appeal process should achieve; a quick and cost effective method to resolve irregularities before instituting legal action.

I would submit that the term “administrative decision” in terms of the MPRDA has a narrower definition than “administrative action” under PAJA, and that this term should not be interpreted to include situations where there has been a failure to take a decision, but only to include situations where a decision has indeed been taken which is prejudicial.

The alternative: Reliance on exceptional circumstances to bypass an internal appeal process

Even if the above argument is rejected, PAJA allows a person to bypass any applicable internal appeal process if there are exceptional circumstances that would allow the court to exempt the non-compliance with the internal appeal procedure (section 7(2)(c)). It would be prudent for any person who wants to bring a court action without first lodging an internal appeal to ask the court to grant an exemption from having to lodge in internal appeal, as an alternative to the argument that there is no internal appeal.

The “exceptional circumstances” that are typically accepted by the courts when granting an exemption from complying with internal appeal procedures are discussed in the next section.

Appropriate legal action and possible relief

If the minister ignores an application that has been submitted and does not consider it at all, an affected person will be able to approach the court in terms of PAJA directly without first exhausting the internal appeal procedure because the internal appeal procedure will not be applicable in these circumstances. As an alternative, an affected person can ask the court for an exemption from the internal appeal process if there are exceptional circumstances that are applicable.

An affected person can approach the court as soon as there has been an unreasonable delay in taking a decision (sections 6(2)(g) and 6(3)(a) of PAJA). It is possible to ask the court to grant any order that it just and equitable (section 8(2) of PAJA), including an order:

  • substituting or varying an administrative action (section 8(1)(c)(ii)(aa));
  • directing the taking of a decision (section 8(2)(a)); or
  • declaring the rights of the affected person (section 8(2)(b). (It might be noted that the legal action listed has relief in terms of both sections 8(1) and 8(2) of PAJA, even though the failure to take an administrative action falls in the ambit of section 8(2). I submit that the wording of section 8(2), permitting the grant of any order that is just and equitable, would not preclude the court from substituting its decision where the minister has failed to act. See the discussion by C Hoexter (Hoexter, C. 2012. Administrative Law in South Africa. Cape Town: Juta, at pg. 557) for further argument in support of this submission).

There has been a lot of recent discussion about the legal doctrine of the separation of powers; how the courts (judiciary) should not overstep its role and perform acts that fall into the realm that should be occupied ministers (the executive). PAJA does, however, directly empower the court to come to the aid of a person when the executive acts unlawfully, and allows the court to effectively make a decision on behalf of the minister when the minister fails to take a decision in a reasonable time (see sections 8(1)(c)(ii)(aa) and 8(2)(a) of PAJA; de Ville, JR. 2003. Judicial Review of Administrative Action in South Africa. Durban: LexisNexis Butterworths, at pg. 370; Hoexter, C. 2012. Administrative Law in South Africa. Cape Town: Juta, at pg. 552).

There are four situations where a court will be prepared to substitute its decision with the decision of the minister, without referring the matter back to the minister for decision. These are:

  • when the end result is a forgone conclusion;
  • when any further delay will cause unjustifiable prejudice;
  • when the original decision maker has exhibited bias or incompetence; or
  • where the court is as well qualified as the original authority to make the decision (Hoexter, 2012, pgs. 552 – 557).

For many applications the MPRDA doesn’t allow the minister to use any discretion when considering the application. The power granted to the minister is not a discretionary power; the minister must grant consent if the requirements for transfer are complied with. If the requirements are met the result is a forgone conclusion; the minister must grant the application.

Applications where the minister is compelled to grant a compliant application include applications for consent to transfer a right (section 11(2)), applications for prospecting rights (section 17(1)) and applications for mining rights (section 23(1)).

For these categories of applications it can be argued that, (i) the court is as qualified as the minister to make the decision, and (ii) that the end result of the application is a foregone conclusion. Once the court has had the opportunity to review and consider the application that was submitted, the court will be as well qualified as the minister to determine if the application placed before it meets the objective criteria the applicable section, and grant the application if all the requirements are met.

In addition to meeting these two requirements for substitution of a decision by the court, a person may also be able to advance reasons to show the court that further delay will cause unjustifiable prejudice.

Based on these considerations I submit that a person would be entitled to approach a court for direct relief and ask the court to substitute its decision with the minister’s decision.

Conclusion (Too Long; Didn’t Read)

What should be done if an application has been submitted to the Department of Mineral Resources, and the department has failed to take any action or consider the application?

  • If time is not of the essence in the underlying commercial transaction, a court application can be brought asking for an order to force the department to perform its duty. The matter would then be referred back to the department for consideration within a court specified time line.
  • If time is of the essence, a person can approach a court for direct relief and ask the court to grant the application, effectively substituting its decision with the minister’s decision. In order to be successful it must be argued that:
    • the MPRDA’s internal appeal process does not apply to situations where the minister fails to take a decision, alternatively that there are exceptional circumstances that would allow the court to exempt the non-compliance with the internal appeal procedure; and
    • the end result is a forgone conclusion; or
    • when any further delay will cause unjustifiable prejudice; or
    • when the original decision maker has exhibited bias or incompetence; or
    • where the court is as well qualified as the original authority to make the decision.

Related Reading:

South African Mining and Prospecting Rights May Expire Sooner than Anticipated

Prospecting and mining rights in South Africa are granted in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA) for a fixed duration. Prospecting rights are granted for a maximum period of 5 years renewable for a further single period not exceeding 3 years, and mining rights are granted for a maximum period of 30 years renewable for further 30 year periods.

In the case of the Minister of Mineral Resources vs Mawetse (SA) Mining Corporation (Pty) Ltd ((20069/14) [2015] ZASCA 82), the South African Supreame Court of Appeal was was asked to determine what date the duration of a right should be calculated from. The court held that the duration of rights must not be calculated from the date that the right was notarially executed, or calculated with reference to the termination dates that are contained in the right itself. The court determined that the duration of the right should be calculated from the date that the applicant for the right was informed that the right would be granted.

Application procedure

To understand the reasoning of the court, and why the decision will lead to uncertainty in practice, the procedure followed by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) when a company applies for a right in terms of the MPRDA should be outlined:

  • An applicant for a mining right or prospecting right must make payment of a non-refundable application fee and lodge its application in the prescribed manner at the offices of the regional manager in whose region the land is situated.
  • The regional manager must accept the application for consideration if the formal requirements for its lodging have been complied with and if no other person holds or has submitted an application for a prospecting right or mining right over the land for the same mineral.
  • After the acceptance of the application the regional manager must make it known that an application has been received, must call on interested parties to submit comments on the application, and must notify the applicant that it must submit the required environmental reports.
  • If the requirements for the grant of the right have been complied with, the applicant will be notified that the right has been granted, will be advised of any conditions attached to the grant of the right, and will be requested to make itself available at the regional offices to notarially execute the right.
  • The DMR’s practice is to calculate the duration of a right from the date of its execution, and record the expiry date calculated using this method as a clause in the in the right.

Facts and Legal Decision

The facts of the Mawetse case are the following:

  • In November 2006 Dilokong Chrome Mine (Pty) Limited applied for a prospecting right.
  • In December 2006 the regional manager issued a letter of acceptance, and requested Dilokong to give effect to the empowerment provisions of the MPRDA and submit supporting documents to evidence its compliance.
  • In July 2007 the deputy director general of the DMR wrote to Dilokong to confirm that the right had been granted for a period of four years.
  • During November 2007, on the date on which the prospecting right was to be executed, Dilokong was informed that the right would not be executed by the department because Dilokong had failed to comply with the empowerment criteria.
  • The environmental management plan submitted by Dilokong was never approved and the prospecting right was never executed.
  • In September 2009 Mawetse applied for rights in respect of the same mineral and land as Dilokong’s application. Mawetse’s application was, however, rejected on the basis that Dilokong had been granted rights over the area.

The decision to reject Mawetse’s application was taken on review. One of Mawetse’s contentions was that there was no conflicting right because Dilokong’s right had been granted for four years, and more than four years had already lapsed since Dilokong’s application had been aproved. In response Dilokong argued that the period that its right was granted for had not started running because the right had not yet been executed, and had not become effective.

The court stated that a right is granted for a limited period and expires through the effluxion of time. To determine if a right has expired, it is necessary to determine the date that the right was granted. The court held that there are three distinct legal processes that must be distinguished from each other, namely (i) the granting of the right; (ii) the execution of the right; and (iii) the coming into effect of the right.

The court rejected the argument advanced by Dilokong that the DDG’s approval had not started running because the right had not been executed and had not become effective, stating that this argument was untenable because it would mean that the area was effectively sterilised in favour of Dilokong. The court held that the period of Dilokong’s prospecting right must be calculated from the date on which it was informed that its application was successful and that the right was granted, namely in July 2007.

The court held that Dilokong’s prospecting right, which had been granted during July 2007, had lapsed due to its expiry, notwithstanding that the right had not been executed and that the right had not become effective.

Practical Implications of the Decision

The decision in the case of Minister of Mineral Resources v Mawetse (SA) Mining Corporation (Pty) Ltd has two important implications for mineral rights granted in terms of the MPRDA:

  • first, the departmental practice of calculating the duration of a right from the date of the rights execution is not sanctioned by the provisions of the MPRDA; and
  • secondly, a right, including the exclusive right to apply for a renewal thereof or the exclusive right to apply for a mining right in the case of a holder of a prospecting right, will lapse on the expiry of the period which is calculated from the date on which the decision to grant the right was communicated to the applicant, not calculated from the date of execution of the right.

Searching for Minerals in South Africa: Applications for Prospecting Rights

The South African mineral and petroleum sector is regulated primarily in terms of the South African Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA).

In terms of the MPRDA the state is the custodian of all mineral resources in South Africa and are held for the benefit of all South Africans; no person may prospect for any mineral unless that person has been granted a relevant right by the state, acting through the Minister of Mineral Resources (section 3(1) as read with 5A)”.

The MPRDA provides for two different rights which allow the holder to search for minerals. Prospecting rights allows the holder to conduct “prospecting operations”, while reconnaissance permissions allows the holder may conduct “reconnaissance operations”.

The work which is permitted under a prospecting licence is more substantial than that permitted under a reconnaissance permission. Reconnaissance permissions only allow the holder to search for minerals by geological, geophysical and photo geological surveys and by using remote sensing techniques. Prospecting rights allow the holder to disturb the surface or subsurface of the earth. The MPRDA defines prospecting as:

"intentionally searching for any mineral by means of any method:

(a) which disturbs the surface or subsurface of the earth, including 
    any portion of the earth that is under sea or under other water; or

(b) in or on any residue stockpile or residue deposit, in order to 
    establish the economic existence of any mineral and to determine 
    the extent and economic value thereof; or 

(c) in the sea or other water on land."

The conduct of any reconnaissance or prospecting without the first obtaining the required reconnaissance permissions or prospecting right constitutes an offence. On conviction a person who is found to have been in contravention of the act may be liable for payment of a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months, or to an fine and imprisonment (section 98(a)(viii) as read with 99(2)).

It is therefore imperative that any person who intends to search for minerals in South Africa ensures that they obtain the required right.

I will briefly set out the application procedure to apply for a prospecting right. It should be noted that some of the provisions in the MPRDA currently regulating applications for prospecting rights will be amended in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Act, No 49 of 2008, parts of which are already in operation and parts of which will only come into operation in the future. Further substantial amendments have a also been proposed in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Amendment Bill B
15B-2013.

Care should be taken to ensure that the correct procedure which is applicable at the time of submitting the application is followed.

Procedure followed in the application for a prospecting right

A person who wishes to apply for a prospecting right in terms of the MPRDA must make payment of the non-refundable application fee and lodge an application in the prescribed manner at the offices of the regional manager in whose region the land is situated (section 16(1)).

The application for a prospecting right must be accompanied by the following documents:

  • a plan of the land to which the application relates prepared in accordance with accepted standards, which must include, inter alia, the north point, scale and the co-ordinates, location, name, number, extent and boundaries of the land (regulation 2(2) plan);
  • a full prospecting work programme, prepared in accordance with regulation 7;
  • documentary proof of the applicant’s technical ability and financial resources to comply with the prospecting work programme;
  • title deeds in respect of the land;
  • copies of the applicants identity document if the applicant is an individual or constitutional documents if the applicant is a company.

The regional manager is obliged to accept the application for consideration if the formal requirements for its lodging have been complied with and if no other person holds or has submitted an application for a prospecting right or mining right over the land for the same mineral. This requirement ensures that persons cannot obtain prospecting rights in the same area where rights have already been granted to another person for the same minerals. Nothing, however, precludes a person from submitting an application for a prospecting right in respect of a different mineral that is not included in a holder’s existing right (section 16(2)).

Within fourteen days after the acceptance of the application the regional manager must make it known that an application has been received and must call on interested parties to submit comments within thirty days of the notice. If objections are received they must be forwarded for consideration to the Regional Mining Development and Environmental Committee in order for them to consider the objections and advise the minister appropriately (section 10).

The regional manager must also within fourteen days after the acceptance of the application notify the applicant in writing that they are required to submit an environmental management plan and that they are required to notify the land owner, lawful occupier or any other affected party in writing of the application and consult with the aforesaid persons (section 16(4)).

The applicant must deliver the result of its consultations to the regional manager within thirty days (section 16(4)(b)).

Once the regional manager has received the environmental management plan and the consultation outcomes the regional manager must forward the application to the minister for the minister’s consideration (section 16(5)).

The minister is obliged to grant the prospecting right within thirty days of receiving the application from the regional manager if:

  • the applicant has the financial and technical capability to conduct the proposed prospecting optimally in accordance with the prospecting work programme;
  • the estimated expenditure is compatible with the proposed prospecting operation and duration of the prospecting work programme;
  • the prospecting will not result in undue pollution, ecological degradation or damage to the environment;
  • the applicant has the ability to comply with the provisions of the Mine Health and Safety Act, No 29 of 1996 (MHSA);
  • the applicant is not in contravention with any relevant provisions of the MPRDA; and
  • the applicant will substantially and meaningfully expand opportunities for historically disadvantaged persons to enter into and actively participate in the mineral industry (section 17(1)).

A prospecting right can be granted for an initial period not exceeding five years, and may be renewed once for a further three year period provided that a renewal application is submitted and the requirements of the act are complied with (section 17(5) and 18(4)).

A prospecting right becomes effective on the date on which the prospecting right is executed. Once the prospecting right has become effective the holder is granted various rights, including the right to enter land with their employees for the purposes of conducting their prospecting work (section 17(5)
as read with the definition of “effective date” and section 5).

Consequences of not following correct procedures

Section 96 the MPRDA provides an internal appeal procedure which may be used by any person whose rights or legitimate expectations have been materially and adversely affected by the granting of a prospecting licence. This right of appeal can be exercised at any time after a prospecting right has been granted, provided that it is exercised within thirty days of the person becoming aware of the grant of the licence (section 96(1)).

The internal appeal procedure, or subsequent court review which may be taken in terms of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act, No 3 of 2000 (PAJA), may result in the prospecting licence being set aside if the correct procedure was not adhered to by the applicant when applying for the prospecting licence. This includes if there was a failure to conduct adequate consultations with affected persons.

In order to ensure that the grant of a prospecting right cannot be set aside on appeal or judicial review it is imperative that an applicant follows the correct procedures are complied with during the application process.