An Australian-owned mining company could cause permanent and devastating damage to an ancient heritage site in South Africa, according to UNESCO and local conservation groups.
The South African government’s Department of Mineral Resources granted Coal of Africa (CoAL) permission to build the mine near Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape in the north of South Africa.
The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains come of the oldest examples in the world of the beginnings of the Iron Age with the remains of complex societies dating back 1000 years and rock paintings that are more than 10,000 years old.
UNESCO is now mobilizing a team of experts to travel to South Africa in November to assess the impact the mine may have on the park, which was the capital city of an ancient African monarchy before the rise of the Shona in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Department of Environmental Affairs has criticized the decision to allow construction of the mine and has told South African media the Department of Mineral Resources over-stepped its jurisdiction.
The department also issued an order halting construction of the mine, which would destroy around 20 archeological sites in the park, some more than ten centuries old.
The centrepiece of the park is a 300 metre long rock plateau, which many believe to have been the inspiration for 'Pride Rock' in the iconic Disney movie "The Lion King".
The mine is now on hold pending a High Court decision and negotiations between various conservation groups, CoAL and the Departments of Mining Resources and Environmental Affairs.
CoAL has criticized the order to halt construction saying that they submitted a 2000-page environmental impact report and that coal mining, eco-tourism and the needs of the local community can co-exist.
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