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CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Coal of Africa's proposed Vele coal mine could increase pollution and hurt South Africa's Mapungupwe World Heritage site, the environmental minister said on Tuesday. Located close to the Kruger National Park, the premier national wildlife park in Africa's largest economy, the Vele colliery in Limpopo has been criticized by environmentalists.
"It was the expressed opinion of the department that the proposed open cast coal mine is an undesirable development for the area where it is proposed," Buyelwa Sonjica, Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs told lawmakers in a written response to questions.
South Africa is one of the world's top coal exporters, driven increasingly by demand from India and China.
The colliery was estimated to cost 2.1 billion rand ($277.4 million) over three years. The project has an estimated 721 million tonnes in situ resource, with life of mine expectancy of 29 years.
"The proposed development has the potential to cause both local as well as trans-boundary impacts including, but not limited to, noise, air, water and visual pollution," she said.
Sonjica said the project, which would be developed as both an open cast as well as underground mine, could also hurt tourism at Mapungupwe, once the largest kingdom in the southern hemisphere and declared a world heritage site in 2003.
"It could further impact negatively on the sense of place and tourism potential of the Mapungupwe World Heritage Site and its buffer zones," she said.
Roads to the Vele colliery have already been cleared, as mine management proceed in terms of new order mining rights granted by the Department of Mineral Resources. However, Sonjica said her department had not yet received a letter or copy notifying them of the new mining order granted, despite clarity being sought in February.
The Foundation, founded in 1997 by Nelson Mandela, Anton Rupert and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, aims to create a network of transfrontier conservation areas in southern Africa.
Reporting by Wendell Roelf