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International Cooperation

Public Participation Guide: Transvaal and Delogoa Bay Colliery - Witbank, Mpumalanga, South Africa


This case study describes the efforts of two South African regulatory agencies to address environmental and public health and safety issues associated with a former coal mining site. It illustrates the importance of using an array of techniques to involve the public and being flexible and open to changing the public participation process during the course of a project. In addition, it underscores the importance of involving the public in the design and implementation of public participation activities, especially those oriented toward building public awareness.

Sponsoring Agencies

  • Department of Minerals and Energy
  • Department of Water Affairs and Forestry

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The Transvaal and Delogoa Bay Colliery (T&DB Colliery) commenced operations in 1896 and was officially closed in 1953. After the closure of the mine, many areas of the mine collapsed and subsided. This resulted in a combination of problems, including acid mine drainage and spontaneous combustion giving rise to air pollution and further subsidence. Although many of the old mine shafts were capped and sealed, the majority of the seals failed or were removed, accelerating spontaneous combustion of the coal. In addition to environmental hazards, the T&DB Colliery poses health and safety risks to nearby residents. Many people living in adjacent towns pass through the area as they walk to work, passing through burning areas and over ground that has the potential to subside. People scavenging for coal on discard dumps are also exposed to health and safety risks.
To address health and safety hazards posed by the former mine site, the Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) and the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) commissioned a mine rehabilitation company, Envirogreen Consulting, to investigate and design potential rehabilitation measures for the entire site. Public participation activities were undertaken throughout the project.

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Public Participation Goal and Level

Sponsor agencies selected the Involve level of public participation for the T&B Colliery rehabilitation project (see the spectrum of public participation) (1 pp, 755 K, About PDF)Exit
The public participation goals were to:
  • Provide stakeholders with information about the project;
  • Provide stakeholders with the opportunity to raise issues and concerns as well as suggest options for the successful rehabilitation of the site;
  • Establish channels for ongoing consultation and feedback with local communities; and
  • Raise community awareness concerning the safety and environmental hazards associated with the site.

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Public Participation Approach

South Africa has a strong legal and policy framework for environmental protection and public participation. The Constitution of South Africa states that everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being and that the Government is required to act reasonably to protect the environment by preventing pollution while promoting conservation and sustainable development, as well as building society and the economy. It also includes provisions to create an environment conducive to public participation. The Constitution places an obligation on the state to assist stakeholders in the quest to obtain information.
The sponsor agencies’ approach to public participation evolved over the life of the project, which involved two distinct phases. Phase 1 involved the assessment of rehabilitation options and design of short term measures while Phase 2 involved implementation of the short-term measures. During Phase 1, public participation activities were focused on informing stakeholders about the rehabilitation project and gathering meaningful input on site rehabilitation options and measures. During Phase 2, public participation activities focused more intently on developing public awareness about health and safety hazards and involving stakeholders in designing and implementing public awareness campaigns.

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Specific Public Participation Tools and Techniques Used

During Phase 1, sponsor agencies conducted the following public participation activities.
  • Pre-consultation small group meetings were held at the start of the project with representatives of various community-based organizations in the participants’ language of choice (e.g., Northern Sotho or Zulu). The meeting purposes were to obtain information on public perceptions of the proposed site rehabilitation process, identify issues and concerns, and ensure the commitment of the parties.
  • Four public meetings were held to inform the public of the investigations that were underway and provide the public with the opportunity to comment on the rehabilitation options and work that was planned.
  • Two brainstorming sessions were held with key stakeholders on site rehabilitation options. Proceedings were sent to all participants as well as others who requested them.
  • A Draft Scoping report was developed that documented the issues and concerns about the site, which was followed by a public meeting to further discuss issues related to the draft scoping report. A Final Scoping report was produced thereafter, and a letter of acknowledgment was distributed to those who commented.
  • Feedback reports on the progress of the project were sent to all stakeholders and relevant documents were distributed for comment at key milestones in the project. Fact sheets were also distributed to local communities, people working on the site, and those crossing the site on their travels.
During Phase 2, sponsor agencies conducted the following public participation activities:
  • Further investigation of the stakeholders in the area and identification of new role players in the area who had emerged subsequent to the commencement of Stage 1 of the process.
  • Formation of an informal steering committee with key stakeholder groups from the local community, including non-governmental organizations and community based organizations. Regular bimonthly meetings were held with the group to discuss the various proposed public activities and also obtain feedback.
  • A public meeting was held to provide feedback on the construction work completed, technical studies, rehabilitation options for the site as well as the environmental impacts of each option. The proposed public participation program was also presented for comment.
  • A T&DB township play was commissioned. Local communities were involved in the production of the play, which was performed as a means of raising community awareness about issues relating to health and safety at the former mine.
  • Communication materials were produced including information fact sheets and a T&DB Colliery newsletter. The material was produced in both the Northern Sotho and Zulu languages. The fact sheets provided graphical illustrations in the interests of communicating with illiterate people. The newsletter provided detail on the environmental issues at T&DB Colliery and work undertaken.
  • An Access Control Pathway survey was conducted to determine reasons for pedestrians using unsafe routes across the site. The survey was conducted due to local skepticism about using the upgraded safe access pathways. Local volunteers conducted the survey and interviewed more than 200 people. It was found that further improvements to the access pathways were required and that the sponsor agencies needed to continually reinforce the message that the pathways were the safest route across the site.
  • School theatre workshops and wall painting were conducted by the project team in Witbank to promote awareness among children. Children were given theatre classes and thereafter joined other community members in communicating safety issues relating to the colliery, as well as information about the work undertaken by DME and DWAF.
  • Throughout Stages 1 and 2, there was continuous consultation with authorities, non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations to ensure an open and transparent process and build a relationship of trust between the authorities and the local communities.

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The public participation process accomplished the goals that were established at the outset of the process. In addition, the use of public participation enabled project sponsors to identify specific stakeholder issues that project sponsors could then address. For example, stakeholder concerns included:
  • Safe access across the site. Safe access pathways were constructed.
  • The presence of graves on the site. Grave sites were identified and recommendations made regarding relocation of graves.
  • The level of crime associated with the site. The issue was raised with the Community Policing Forum, who together with the South African Police Service and the South African National Civic Organization, indicated that they would strive to intensify crime prevention initiatives in the area.
  • Potential damage to houses during blasting to be carried out on the site. A photographic survey was undertaken by local volunteers of all the potentially affected houses prior to the blasting. This provided a sense of security to affected stakeholders as it provided a visual record and reference point in the event of problems caused by blasting.
  • In addition, the public participation process resulted in an improved public information campaign about the site rehabilitation because local stakeholders were involved in the design and implementation of the campaign. Stakeholders were able to identify creative ways of communicating information about the site and were instrumental in obtaining data on site access.

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Lessons Learned

This project demonstrates the importance of being flexible and open to changing the public participation process during its course as evidenced by a shift in emphasis during Phase 2 of the project once it became clear that broader awareness-raising was required. Further, it shows that stakeholders often change over the life of a project, and that stakeholder analyses may need to be conducted at various intervals over a project.
In addition, this project underscores the importance of using an array of techniques – some typically associated with public participation and others not – to involve the public. Project sponsors used a range of meeting types to exchange information with public; used access surveys and brainstorming sessions to obtain information from the public; and used plays, newsletters, and graphical fact sheets to inform the public about the project.
Finally, this project shows the value of involving the public in the design and implementation of public participation activities. Local stakeholders are typically more familiar with the broader community than agency sponsors and know what information channels exist and what new ones might need to be created. Moreover, they understand and can recommend appropriate mechanisms for providing essential project information to the public.

Explore the full Public Participation Guide.


For additional information on EPA's Public Participation Guide, contact:
Shereen Kandil
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of International and Tribal Affairs (2650R)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460