Thursday, March 25, 2010

Statement by Dirkie Morkel about proposal to mine clay on the oldest Pinotage vineyard

THE CURRENT POSITION WITH REGARD TO COROBRIK’S PROSPECTING RIGHT FOR CLAY ON BELLEVUE FARM

The following is a short summary of the history of Bellevue in an attempt to promote a better understanding of the current position in respect of the issue mentioned above:

• I, D C Morkel, am the fourth generation Morkel farming on Bellevue, a wine farm in the Bottelary area between Stellenbosch and Kuils River in the Western Cape – the first Morkel started farming here in 1861;

• The historic old Cape Dutch homestead (dated 1803) was restored to its original design and beauty in 1990 and has been declared a national monument.

• Bellevue made history in 1953 when the first commercial Pinotage vineyard in South Africa (and, as it is a cultivar developed in South Africa, also in the world!) was planted on Bellevue by my uncle (P K Morkel), who was also a Springbok rugby player.

• P K made further history by winning the coveted General Smuts trophy for the overall champion wine at the South African Young Wine Show in 1959 with his Pinotage.

• The piece of land on Bellevue for which prospecting rights for clay have now been awarded to Corobrik, includes the historic old Pinotage vineyard block.

• Bellevue has been a registered wine estate since 1983.

• In 2006 Bellevue became an enthusiastic member of the Biodiversity in Wine Initiative (BWI). Parts of this project (e g the uncultivated natural vegetation, mainly fynbos), are also situated within the area where prospecting rights have been awarded.

What follows is a brief outline of the course of events surrounding the application by Corobrik for prospecting rights for clay in an open mine:

• At the end of 2008 we were informed by Corobrik that they had applied for prospecting rights for clay on our farm.

• Approximately three weeks later Corobrik furnished us with a so-called “Prospecting Work Programme”. I considered the whole matter to be so absurd that I did not give much attention to it by raisings objections or taking any other steps, which, in hindsight, was obviously a huge mistake. At that stage I very naively reasoned that rezoning would never be successful because of the resistance that I, farmers from neighbouring farms, the Department of Agriculture and the Municipality of Stellenbosch would offer in the “unlikely event” that the matter was taken further.

• I received a letter, dated 12 August 2009, from the Department of Minerals and Energy by registered mail, in which they informed Corobrik that prospecting rights for clay on Bellevue had been awarded to them. Corobrik was cautioned in that letter to adhere to and comply with the EMP (environmental management plan). This document’s reference number is (WC)30/5/1/1/2/355PR and enquiries are directed to D S Kunene, who signed the letter as “Acting Regional Manager Western Cape Region”. I have obtained his e-mail address in the meantime, namely duduzile.kunene@mineralresources.gov.za.

• At the beginning of October 2009 we received a visit from Mr Dirk Meyer (Managing Director of Corobrik SA) and Mr Christie van Niekerk (Manager of Corobrik, Western Cape). I had the impression that neither one of them, nor any other person from Corobrik, had ever been to Bellevue before. They did not at all know where the land in question was situated and it appeared (to me, in any case) that they were surprised when they learnt that there were vineyards on the land earmarked for prospecting. When I asked them how they became aware of the clay potential of the portion of land, their reply was that it was revealed by a careful study of a geological map. They tried to dispel my fears by downplaying my objections to mining for clay on land on which permanent crops are cultivated by stating that the land would be restored to its original state before being handed back, a claim I questioned and contested in the strongest possible terms in their presence. I remember asking them whether they had ever mined on land on which there were established vineyards and had managed to successfully re-establish the vineyards after the mining had ceased. I do not specifically remember their reply to my question or their comments in that regard, but definitely got the impression that such mining and restoration were more frequently performed on uncultivated land.

• Unfortunately I had the (wrong) idea that they had to some extent lost interest; when we did not in the immediate aftermath receive any further correspondence from them, this opinion of mine was strengthened. However, approximately three weeks ago we received a request from them, asking us to enter into a “Surface Lease Agreement” with them.

• I am employing the services of Mr Albert Marais (Marais Muller Yekiso in Kuils River) as attorney, who, at this stage, has taken legal advice from Advocate Elsa van Huyssteen.

• She has made the following recommendations in her report:

1) That we indicate to Corobrik that the portion of land in question is still zoned as Agricultural Zone 1;

2) that they did not start prospecting (as is stipulated) within 120 days of the awarding of the prospecting rights;

3) that they be referred to the judgment and outcome of the court cases Meepo v Kotze and Others 2008 (1) SA 104 (NC) and Joubert v Maranda Mining Co (Pty) Ltd 2010 (1) SA 198 (SCA).

• I studied the map and saw that some land on three of the farms neighbouring Bellevue was included in the area earmarked for prospecting, namely Avondrus (Alfred Borcherds), Houdenmond, a portion of Koopmanskloof farm (W S Smit Trust), as well as a portion of the land of Mr Donald Rix (Klein Koopmanskloof).

• I liaised with all three of them and it transpired that none of them had in any way been approached or contacted about this issue by Corobrik.

• I supplied this information and other relevant background particulars to Jorisna Bonthuys of Die Burger, as well as to Elbe van Heerden of Eikestadnuus in Stellenbosch. Their reports on the matter appeared in Die Burger of Thursday, 11 March 2010 and the Eikestadnuus of 12 March 2010. Both of the journalists made telephonic contact with Mr Meyer of Corobrik.

• Despite the fact that Mr Meyer downplayed the matter in the Eikestadnuus as an issue of little importance (“we actually prefer to co-operate with the farmer on a voluntary basis and if the farmer is not happy, we would rather go and look at other places”), a new document was delivered to Mr Marais last Friday afternoon (12/03). In that document the area earmarked for prospecting is substantially smaller (146 ha and no longer 320 ha), and it includes only the portion of land forming part of Bellevue. On the new map my three neighbours on the other three farms have therefore been excluded.

• Furthermore, the EMP is in my view not dealing with the facts in a fair and impartial way, and this results in the DME not receiving a true picture of the real situation. I doubt whether anyone has really come to Bellevue to observe and identify the vegetation. The two gentlemen who visited us did not even know where the land in question was situated and no-one else has ever approached us to ask permission to enter upon our land. The part of the EMP (C 1.4, p 12) dealing with nature appears to me to be worded in general terms quoted from a standard document, which may be true in general but does not take into consideration the unique character of a specific area. For instance, in the portion in question where the prospecting rights have been awarded, there are two areas included in the BWI Project, namely the Swartland Shale Renosterveld and the Cape Flats Sand Fynbos. Both are described by BWI as “critically endangered”, but yet prospecting rights have been awarded, while the EMP states that there are no “nature reserves” in the vicinity of the envisaged area (C1.6, p 13)!

This is where we stand at the moment. This document will also be sent to the Municipality of Stellenbosch, the Department of Agriculture of Elsenburg, BWI, the Agricultural Society of Stellenbosch, as well as neighbours and other interested persons and parties, including role-players in the political arena
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