On Friday, 31 January 2014, the Naphuno Regional Court in Limpopo sentenced Matome Maponya, the managing director of a clay mining company based in Tzaneen, to five years in prison for causing damage to the environment. Mr Maponya’s sentence was suspended for 5 years, on condition that the damage done by the mining operations be rehabilitated within 3 months.

The Centre for Environmental Rights believes this to be the first conviction in South Africa of a director of a mining company in his personal capacity for mining-related environmental offences.

Blue Platinum Ventures 16 Pty Ltd has been mining clay outside the village of Batlhabine in Limpopo since 2007, causing widespread environmental degradation through its activities. Blue Platinum has undertaken none of the rehabilitation measures required by mining and environmental laws. The cost of rehabilitating the damage caused has been estimated at approximately R6.8 million.

The Batlhabine community, plagued by the environmental degradation caused by Blue Platinum’s mining operations, spent several years trying to persuade the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) to take action against Blue Platinum. When Blue Platinum’s activities continued unabated, the community laid criminal charges against the company and its directors with the assistance of attorneys from the Centre for Environmental Rights. Faced with evidence presented by the community and expert reports commissioned by the Centre for Environmental Rights, both Blue Platinum and its managing director pleaded guilty to contravention of section 24F of the National Environmental Management Act (Nema). Blue Platinum, Mr Maponya and five other directors had been charged with a long list of offences under Nema, the National Water Act and the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act.