In an indication of the overall direction being taken by some courts towards environmentally negligent companies, a court in South Africa has committed the managing director of a clay mining company to five years in jail, suspended for 5 years on condition that the damage done by the mining operations is rehabilitated within 3 months. Whether or not environmental rehabilitation sufficient to meet the court’s conditions is possible within 3 months is presently unknown.
According to the Centre for Environmental Rights, a non-profit company and law clinic based in Cape Town, this is the first case in the country where a sentence of direct imprisonment has been imposed on the director of a licensed mining company for mining-related environmental offences, without the option of a fine. Both Blue Platinum and its managing director pleaded guilty to contravention of section 24F of the National Environmental Management Act.
Blue Platinum Ventures 16 Pty Ltd has been mining clay for bricks in the province of Limpopo since 2007, causing widespread environmental degradation. 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 ($CDN680,000).
After the government failed to take action against the company the community linked up with the Centre for Environmental Rights in a private prosecution of the Company.
One of the directors of the company is the wife of the former provincial premier. Local media have suggested that the Managing Director pleaded guilty in order to avoid any risk that the former premier’s wife would be found guilty and jailed. Charges against all of the directors except the Managing Director were dropped.
Some details of the court decision are at http://cer.org.za/news/breaking-news-mining-company-director-convicted-of-environmental-offences-suspended-sentence-linked-to-cleanup. A statement by the head of the national environment practice at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, one of South Africa’s largest commercial law firms, is at http://www.polity.org.za/article/sa-statement-by-cliffe-dekker-hofmeyr-one-of-south-africas-largest-commercial-law-firms-court-imposes-prison-sentence-on-a-director-of-a-company-that-has-caused-environmental-harm-07022014-2014-02-07