Nuclearisation of Africa - Conference in pictures

Life in toxic wasteland no child's play

Written by  Friday, 20 March 2015 17:08
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Lucas Misapitso casually holds a handful of poisoned earth in his hands. Behind him, the forlorn shacks of Tudor Shaft huddle helplessly against a toxic mountain of mine tailings that splits them in two. 

 

The shack where Misapitso lives is located a few metres away from the mine dump that obtrudes from the informal settlement, in Krugersdorp, like a menace.

The 24-year old grew up here and the mound of toxic soil that has been declared a radiological hot spot is an unwelcome, though familiar, neighbour for his community.

When it rains, the tailings flood into his home and those of his 2 000 neighbours. When the wind blows, residents of the settlement are forced to ingest its fine dust, and the dust billowing from the surrounding mine dumps that encircle the bleak community.

The mine dump in Tudor shaft is so toxic and radioactive that several government agencies have recommended the community be urgently relocated. But Mogale City has only relocated a handful of residents living on top of the dump.

Misapitso, like many other residents, has grown impatient and has spent the past year lobbying government agencies and departments to intervene.

He looks dapper in a smart red shirt, matching red pants and a red hat, a pair of brown sharp-nosed shoes on his feet. He has to look good.

He is on his way to a meeting with Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu to implore her to act on the plight of Tudor shaft. “I want to tell her how these mining companies came here, made their money and left – but not care about the suffering.”

Thanks to Misapitso’s lobbying efforts, the SA Human Rights Commission has launched its own investigation into the mining activities that “are alleged to cause harm to the well-being and health of the complainants.”

It has ordered the Mogale City municipality to provide it with a relocation plan, environmental impact assessment and other reports and records of any action taken by the municipality from the period it was first informed of the complaint.

Everywhere he goes, Misapitso carries a report by Professor Victor Tshivhase, of the Centre for Applied Radiation Science and Technology at the North West University.

In a study for the Department of Mineral Resources last year, Tshivhase recommended that residents be relocated to an alternative safe habitable area because of the high radiation levels.

Previously, radiation levels in Tudor Shaft [informal settlement] have been found to be 15 times higher than the regulatory limits. Studies, in 2010, by the National Nuclear Regulator determined that residents of Tudor Shaft are exposed to potentially dangerous levels of radiation.

The contamination, says Mariette Liefferink, the chief executive of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, is not in dispute. “What is in dispute is the lack of action”, she says. “The dump did not fall from heaven.”

But Tudor Shaft is by no means unique. Across Gauteng, there are 1.6 million people living on mine dumps that are contaminated with uranium and toxic heavy metals, including rsenic, aluminium, manganese and mercury
But it’s here on the West Rand, argues Liefferink, where the toxic legacy of mining has hit hardest. Every day, more than 42 tons of hazardous dust from mine tailings enter the environment, generated through wind-borne and water.

She navigates the uneven terrain of the dump in an impossibly high pair of wedges. With a polka-dot scarf around her neck, Liefferink looks incongruous in the bleak surroundings. But
she has spent nine years, bringing hope where there is none and talking her crusade to Parliament. “I feel I’m a part of this community now”, she says.

Several years ago, Liefferink’s organisation quashed attempts by the authorities and Mintails, a local mining outfit to [unlawfully] remove the mine dump arguing it would cause more harm.

The Department of Environmental Affairs has now appointed its own radiation specialist to conduct “radiological and health assessments’, which are expected to be completed within six months.

But as government departments squabble over who must take charge, the community pays the price, laments Misapitso. Tudor Shaft is as old as democracy, he says, but its very existence is a symbol that democracy has failed the poorest of the poor.

Several studies have showed how exposure to high levels of radioactive uranium can lead to birth defects and brain disorders while the heavy metals in the waste are cancer-causing.
Community members complain of respiratory problems and skin lesions.

Another resident Gloria Mkhehlane, cradles her twin boys. She says: “they battle to breathe at night. I don’t know what to do. We need the government to help us but no one comes.”

MINING

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SA NEWS

Lauded for research on SA acid mine drainage

The launch of Acid mine drainage in South Africa: Development actors, policy impacts and broader implications, by Suvania Naidoo, took place on 10 February 2017. The book has proven to be a timely publication because of the incipient water crisis in South Africa. The event was hosted by Unisa’s Department of Development Studies in the College of Human Sciences. The guests were welcomed by the chair of the department, Prof Gretchen du Plessis, who expressed that “development studies is an ever-changing discipline and is a space where different issues converge”. She further stated that the book fills a void in our knowledge about acid mine drainage (AMD) and that the publication is “an example of hard work which results in big achievements”.   This publication is the culmination of the findings of the research conducted for Naidoo’s master’s dissertation. The book focuses on assessing the responses of the various development actors involved in addressing the issues of AMD, and its socio-economic and developmental implications. Prof Dirk Kotzé, from the Department of Political Sciences at Unisa and programme director for the event, said that AMD research is generally analysed from highly technical, engineering, and natural science perspectives. He also said that the purpose of the publication was to identify and explain the different conceptual understandings of AMD and its implications. Kotzé acclaimed the publication as being one of the few cases where a social science approach successfully ventures into the domain of the natural sciences.   Naidoo uses sustainable development and, specifically, environmental sustainability as the departure for this research, which is directly linked to water and food security. She said the book concentrates on AMD as “a phenomenon in water management in South Africa and its potential impact on sustainable development, as well as mining and the quality of water in South Africa and the impacts of AMD”.   She emphasised that one of the most important contributions of her research is conceptual in nature and said “the manner in which AMD is defined determines how it is assessed as a water management, environmental, and social problem. It also means that the response to AMD is determined by how it is defined by government”. Naidoo highlighted that, while the South African government has made strong and valuable attempts to address the issues surrounding AMD, the conclusions of her research showed that there was no clear indication in policy as to what the socio-economic impacts caused by AMD are, and how they should be responded to.   Keynote speaker, Mariette Liefferink, CEO of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, and a leading activist in this field, provided a detailed account of the historic and contemporary context of AMD. She alerted the audience to a significant fact that AMD dates as far back as 1903. She used a more current example to illustrate the impact of AMD on South Africa’s water systems by explaining how the problem of AMD in the West Rand Basin, Gauteng, was left untreated for almost 10 years. She said the immediate short-term treatment of AMD only commenced in 2012 and said that a feasibility study for the long-term treatment of this phenomenon was conducted in 2013 at a cost of R25m. Liefferink said that the long-term treatment plan for AMD was launched on 18 May 2016 but would only be implemented by 2020. She warned that this might have a significant impact on water security. She stressed that academics who employ their research for the benefit of society should be applauded and endorsed Naidoo’s publication as having a definite economic and social value impact.   Zachary Romano, editor at Springer, New York, via a pre-recorded video, said: “Suvania’s research was a perfect candidate for our SpringerBriefs edition, in Earth Sciences, Geography and Environment at Springer Nature. This series is targeted at publishing interdisciplinary case-studies that speaks to larger issues, particularly from young researchers with promising careers. As South Africa’s water systems are under much stress from climate change and pollution already, this is a timely document and we are confident that many academics and professionals will find it to be a great resource”. He also said that the book proposal was reviewed by several leaders in the field, all of whom were impressed by the final product. He further mentioned that the publisher is looking forward to future collaborative work with Naidoo.   The event was extremely well-attended by key stakeholders and experts in this field.

Truth of the dust that brings death

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Harvard Report: The Cost of Gold

A report has been published by the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic titled "The Cost of Gold: Environmental, Health, and Human Rights Consequences of Gold Mining in South Africa’s West and Central Rand.   The reports states, "The complex web of responsible government agencies and repeated legislative changes to that organizational structure have impeded the development of a coordinated plan to deal with the negative effects of mining. The limited scope of action, inadequate attention to at-risk communities, and insufficient consideration of environmental concerns have undermined the completeness of any response."

SA hasn't protected residents from gold mine pollution: Harvard report

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WATER

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