Mapping for justice: towards an accessible, transparent database of mining along the West Coast of South Africa

One Ocean Hub (OOH) researchers, at the Environmental and Geographical Science Department of the University of Cape Town, have been monitoring, documenting, and mapping the many prospecting, mining, and oil and gas activities on the west coast of South Africa. Over the past two years this work has highlighted the rapid increase in the number of applications for prospecting and mining for heavy mineral sands and diamonds along the west coast of South Africa as well as applications for oil and gas exploration and production. These activities have raised significant concerns amongst coastal communities and their social partners. Researchers, NGOs, and communities were struggling to keep abreast of the many applications and calls for public input to the various environmental assessment and management processes.

With no government database or cadastre on mining applications, their whereabouts and status, the public, and ocean research community in South Africa, was largely unaware of the  increasing pressures on our coastal and marine environment. There is  no overall understanding of the many different applications and operations, their locality, minerals being targeted, affected environment and communities, as well as their status at any given time – all information that should be available to the public in an understandable, affordable, and timely manner.. Making this information available to the public is critical to ensure that people understand the nature and severity of environmental and social impacts, and how these may undermine their human rights including their rights to a clean and healthy environment, to food, and their rights to participate in decision-making processes.  

Of particular concern was that each application was being assessed on an ad hoc basis. More worrying was the lack of consideration of the cumulative impacts associated with these applications – no government department was taking account of the cumulative impacts on water resources, on critical biodiversity, on marine resources, on road infrastructure, nor how these many prospecting and mining operations would affect access to the coast, access to fishing grounds, with the inevitable impacts on local livelihoods, cultural heritage, and sense of place. 

Communities felt confused by the many applications and public meetings and researchers and NGOs realised that they could not keep pace with the volume of applications and their changing status. Consequently, Prof Merle Sowman, together with researchers Dr Jackie Sunde and Michael Lambrecht and a GIS specialist, Rio Button, embarked on a process of monitoring, documenting, and mapping all applications for prospecting and mining, as well as oil and gas exploration on the west coast of South Africa. A table provides an up-to-date list of all the applications and their status as per available information.

Links to the relevant documents, maps and applicants and their consultants are provided so that the public can zoom into those areas and applications of interest to them. The map is updated every 3 months by the team and is available below.

Since the project started, the researchers have been invited by government departments at local, provincial and national level, as well as various NGOs and other associations, to present the state of knowledge of mining and prospecting on the west coast. This data is now being used by various government departments, committees, and task teams to inform planning and decision-making and has featured in several newspaper articles and consultant reports.  By creating and maintaining this comprehensive database, we are working to support transparent and accountable decision-making.  

Prepared by Merle Sowman, Jackie Sunde and Michael Lambrecht, One Ocean Hub Research Group Department of Environmental and Geographical Science, University of Cape Town.