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Oxpeckers | Cleaning up the mining mess

Monday, 16 July 2018 18:46
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With about 6,000 abandoned mines across South Africa, regulators are searching for answers to irresponsible mine closure. Mark Olalde reports

Original article can be found here

 


Broken promises: George Harrison Park was constructed to commemorate the spot where commercial miners first found gold on

the Witwatersrand Basin, but artisanal miners now use it as an entrance to underground mine workings. Central Rand Gold

committed in its social and labour plan to invest R5-million in the park, which it did not do. Photo: Mark Olalde

The latest draft of the hotly debated Mining Charter does not deal with mine closure or funds for environmental cleanup. Open for public comment until August 31, the new charter only calls for companies to invest a small amount into research institutions that can study a wide-range of topics, one being “rehabilitation”.

The potential for solutions rests with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), which is drafting new regulations that govern financial provisions for mine closure and that could fundamentally transform how cleanup is funded.

As mines wind up, the system governing closure is meant to be failsafe, mandating companies to put up financial provisions on which the government can call for reclamation if companies walk away from their obligations.

In reality, shortcomings in the system see small mining outfits holding insufficient funds as well as the responsibility for closure, adding to the list of abandoned mines that already litter the country. In 2015 Oxpeckers reported it could take R30-billion or more to remediate the derelict and ownerless mines (see No disclosure on mining’s mess).

Dead end: Infrastructure rusts at the abandoned Golfview coal mine near Ermelo, Mpumalanga. Photo: Mark Olalde

Hope for a fix

DEA is working on draft financial provision regulations for mine closure, and several sources who participated in a May 24 planning meeting described the potential direction they will take.

Tracy-Lynn Humby, a law professor at Wits who has extensively researched mine closure legislation, said she was surprised with the positive direction DEA laid out for the upcoming regulations.

“DEA is trying to balance a lot of competing voices. They’re not just giving into the mining industry, but it’s a complicated endeavour and I don’t think they’ve unpacked all the problems,” Humby said.

Previously governed by the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, financial guarantees and other aspects of mine closure now fall under the National Environmental Management Act.

The amendment process has been in the works since DEA, the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) and the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) began better collaborating under the banner of the One Environmental System in 2014. DEA published a round of draft regulations in November 2017, but the department confirmed that upcoming amendments will be “substantive” and will require further consultation.

In the interim, a version that was promulgated in November 2015 remains in effect.

In a statement, DEA spokesperson Albi Modise said: “The nature and scope of the amendments warranted that, for ease of implementation, the 2015 regulations should be repealed and replaced with the regulations that will be finalised in 2018.”

The next round is expected to come with more stringent requirements for transparency, including for auditing financial provisions, which will be proposed to occur every three years and to include “independent specialists”, according to DEA.

The department also began a process of better defining terms such as “remediate” and “rehabilitate” in hopes of reducing ambiguity around legal requirements.

According to DEA’s presentation at the May meeting and the meeting’s minutes, these regulations would apply to “a business rescue practitioner and a liquidator – they take over the requirement to implement rehabilitation”, an idea that could compel ongoing rehabilitation in cases such as the abandoned Blyvooruitzicht gold mine and Golfview coal mine in Mpumalanga (see Coal mines leave a legacy of ruin).

Of particular importance, the draft regulations will call for elevated levels of funds, including enough to address “latent and residual environmental impacts”, which will cover the pumping and treatment of polluted mine water such as acid mine drainage “in perpetuity”. DEA is now deciding whether to allow the minister of water and sanitation to access financial provisions to pay for water treatment.

In a statement, DWS spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said the department is working closely with DEA on the amendment process and is updating other regulations to align them. He added that financial guarantees should be a last-case scenario: “Rather than a total reliance on the financial provision instrument, a proactive stance that seeks to prevent or minimise impacts on water resources during the period of active mining is instead engendered.”

Christine Reddell, an attorney with the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), said, “The system that we anticipate is coming with the new draft regulations is definitely better than the [Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act] system.”

Glory days: Mining has significantly declined since reaching historical highs more than 30 years ago. Source: StatsSA

Reality of mine closure

While still a significant facet of South Africa’s economy and identity, the mining industry has been in decline for years in response to factors ranging from depleted gold resources to thermal coal markets reeling from cheap natural gas and renewables.

Mining peaked at 21% of gross domestic product in 1980, and the industry’s employment reached its highest level at more than 760,000 workers in 1987, according to StatsSA. Now, the gold and coal sectors face an uncertain future, contributing to the fact that mining only contributed 7% of GDP and fewer than 400,000 jobs in the first quarter of 2018.

As the industry contracts, proper closure, including environmental rehabilitation, becomes paramount.

Oxpeckers’ previous, award-winning investigations into mine closure exposed a broken system in which an estimated R60 billion is held in financial provisions but rarely, if ever, used for rehabilitation. Large-scale operations such as coal mines do not received closure certificates needed to shutter a mine legally, and improper mine closure has wide-ranging social consequences for adjacent communities.

Community activist: Until his death in May 2018, Vincent Mashinini fought for a clean environment, proper mine closure and social

justice in his township bordering an abandoned coal mine near Ermelo where he had spent 15 years working. Photo: Mark Olalde

More to be done

The drafting process has allowed for discussion of drastic change to address some of these shortfalls.

In other mine closure systems, such as that of the US coal industry, companies put up similar provisions and earn back portions of their money in phases when they hit reclamation benchmarks. This both incentivises speedy closure as well as returns funds to companies that often operate on thin margins.

While DEA will not allow financial provisions to be used for concurrent rehabilitation, there is talk of a phased return of these funds focused at the end of life of the mine if reclamation has significantly progressed.

A number of additional issues remain even further in flux, and concerned civil society organisations anxiously await publication of the draft regulations.

Of particular disappointment to many, DEA’s brief attempt in the 2015 regulations to impose time limits on “care and maintenance” – which CER’s mining programme head, Catherine Horsfield, called “a gateway to abandonment” – appears to have died under pressure from industry and the DMR. The faux-legal term refers to indefinitely warehousing mines instead of spending money on rehabilitation.

“[Mining companies] leave their open pits. They leave their unrehabilitated footprints and partially reclaimed tailings storage facilities, and that, they claim, is care and maintenance. But it is absolute abandonment of their responsibilities,” said Mariette Liefferink, chief executive of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment.

In response to the 2015 regulations, several mining companies brought litigation against the government in September 2016, challenging the legality of both the regulations as well as a section in the National Environmental Management Act. The case – DRD Gold Limited and others vs Minister of Environmental Affairs and others – is on hold while the parties await the new regulations.

Industry pushback also led to regulators extending the deadline for older permits to comply with the new regulations until February 2019. “That [deadline] gives us an indication of how urgent it is that they finalise these regulations,” Reddell said.

The Minerals Council South Africa, which represents the majority of the country’s mining industry and was previously called the Chamber of Mines, did not respond to requests for comment on its engagement with the regulatory drafting process.

Wits’s Humby said the upcoming regulations fail to address one major issue: the DMR. Financial provisions would remain in the hands of the DMR, which has not shown evidence that it has ever successfully used this money for environmental rehabilitation.

“[The money] goes into this black hole of what appears to be a completely dysfunctional department,” Humby said. “It’s like a punishment, rather than incentivising companies to develop innovative closure technologies.”

DMR did not respond to requests for comment on gaps in the country’s mine closure system.

With the focus on terrestrial mining, observers worry DEA will leave the offshore oil and gas industry out of the upcoming regulations instead of searching for solutions to address the complicated rehabilitation of marine infrastructure.

“The concern is [offshore oil and gas] might be given a free pass simply because it’s too expensive to put up provision,” Horsfield said. In April, Environment Minister Edna Molewa amended the regulations to delay that industry’s compliance deadline until 2024, and CER and others remain in the dark over the future of regulating offshore activities.

DEA’s Modise said legislation allows that “financial provisioning requirements could be made relevant to other sectors. However, there will not be an immediate expansion. It is important to finalise the dispensation for mining before expansion to other areas can be considered.”

Smoke and mirrors: A man attempts to contain a roaring shack fire in Johannesburg’s Zamimpilo informal settlement, home to

many small-scale illegal miners who work in nearby abandoned mines. Photo: Mark Olalde

‘Failed system’

Amid the debate over mine closure, CER and Intellidex, a financial research firm, recently released a report – titled “Full Disclosure: the truth about mining rehabilitation in South Africa” – that takes an in-depth look at financial provisions.

The study found significant issues concerning transparency, liability calculations and opportunities for public participation that any new regulations will need to fix to be considered successful.

Orin Tambo, a senior financial analyst at Intellidex who co-authored the financial provision research, said the project began as an exercise to analyse publicly available financial information from 11 coal and platinum mining houses listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

“In the process, we actually discovered that there were gaps and holes in the disclosure of the companies reporting the rehabilitation,” he said.

The report found that “neither the law, nor the accounting standards governing company disclosures” went far enough to push companies toward useful levels of transparency, as a result making it “impossible for shareholders or taxpayers to hold companies or regulators to account”.

Companies often lumped together the liabilities or the rehabilitation funds from their various mines while eschewing detailed descriptions of cleanup costs, making it impossible to draw conclusions on the adequacy of financial provisions.

“This system has failed in South Africa… We cannot easily tell how much money is held for rehabilitation, where and how it is held, who administers it, who has access to it, how it is spent, who calculates it and how it is calculated,” the report said.

Ever-present in mine closure research is the question of whether enough money is set aside for reclamation. The report found that a number of the studied companies still rely on the “Guideline Document for the Evaluation of the Quantum of Closure-Related Financial Provision Provided by a Mine” when calculating the level of money needed in financial provisions.

That document has not been rewritten since it was published in January 2005, even though it calls for an annual update to the section that lays out methods of calculating levels of financial provisions. While the rand to dollar conversion in January 2005 was about R6 to $1, that ratio is now roughly R13.5 to $1, indicating the significant shortfall that could result from relying on the outdated document.

CER’s recommended fixes included publishing a national dataset of financial provisions, disclosing the experts who calculate these guarantees and their qualifications, identifying the trustees who hold the keys to open certain types of provisions and basing liability estimates on actual costs instead of the 2005 guideline document.

Horsfield believes the scope of the regulatory amendment process could push South Africa’s governance of mine closure to unprecedented, progressive territory globally, if done properly.

“No one in the world has done this before,” she said. – oxpeckers.org

Mark Olalde is an Oxpeckers associate and a freelance investigative journalist

• Use the #MineAlert tool to track and share mining licences, explore threats to water resources, and read more investigations

Read 12731 times Last modified on Monday, 16 July 2018 19:53

MINING

PRESS RELEASE: REPORT BY SOMO - MINTAILS' STRATEGIES OF DISENGAGEMENT IN SOUTH AFRICA

Mind the Gap consortium launched the new website www.mindthegap.ngo featuring five strategies corporations use to avoid responsibility for human rights abuses: 1.Constructing deniability; 2. Avoiding liability through judicial strategies; 3. Distracting and obfuscating stakeholders; 4.Undermining defenders and communities;  5. Utilising state power. These harmful strategies manifest themselves in a wide array of actions by corporations that obstruct justice, distort the facts and frustrate remedy for affected communities.   The Mintails case will be part of the evidence base for this website and Lonmin’s involvement in the Marikana massacre is also included. The case studies featured on the new website highlight the wide prevalence of harmful corporate strategies in practice and amplifies the urgent need to close the governance gaps that are sustaining a global system of corporate impunity.   Subjoined hereunder is the report on Mintails. in South Africa CASE STUDY: MINTAILS’ STRATEGIES OF DISENGAGEMENT IN SOUTH AFRICA Photo: SOMO Last updated: 10th July 2020 The bankruptcy case of the South African mining company Mintails provides an example of irresponsible disengagement by investors, leaving the state of South Africa and the local communities around the mines with the burden of uncovered post-mining environmental rehabilitation costs. Mintails S.A. (Mintails), a fully-owned subsidiary of Mintails Limited (MLI), held three mining rights in South Africa – West Wits Mining, Minerals and Mining Reclamation, and Mogale Gold. In the 2010s, Mintails was granted these mining rights by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR), subject to adequate provision for environmental rehabilitation liability. However, the mining rights were never fully issued, as Mintails failed to provide multiple financial and social provisions.[1] Despite the lack of a valid mining licence, Mintails was allowed to continue mining operations, amid numerous documented complaints of environmental contraventions.[2] After several statutory notices from DMR, in which the department asked Mintails to comply with environmental regulations and to provide adequate remedy for the damages it had caused, the Director General of DMR directed Mintails to provide a quarter of all the due costs in October 2014. The company was required to submit a six-month payment plan to provide the remaining sum.[3] Unable to raise this money, Mintails filed for business rescue a year later.[4] Several actions by MLI and Mintails resulted in diminished environmental liability. First, Mintails hired two consultants who provided substantially downgraded estimates of the company’s liability for the environmental harms originating from its mining activities.[5] Second, in the midst of a business rescue, MLI divested itself from Mintails by proceeding to spin-off its South African subsidiary.[6] MLI was then renamed Orminex Limited,[7] completing what looks like a manoeuvre to avoid liability for the environmental reparations owed by Mintails.[8] Eventually, Mintails filed for liquidation during the summer of 2018,[9] leaving the state of South Africa and the local communities around the mines with the financial burden to cover post-mining environmental rehabilitation costs, estimated at over R460 million (approx. 35 million US$).[10] As multiple sources argue, this turn of events could have been foreseen as Mintails had recognised that its activities could lead to bankruptcy. The company nonetheless decided not to secure the funds it owed for environmental repairs.[11] MLI’s separation from its South African subsidiary Mintails can be interpreted as a sign that the company aimed to avoid liability for the environmental damages created by its subsidiary. Despite the South African Parliament recommending prosecution and civil suits on company directors and shareholders in their personal capacities so that some of the liability owed could be recovered, the National Prosecuting Authority has been silent on the matter to date. Observers have pointed out that this is unlikely to change in South Africa’s mining-dependant environment.[12] In an attempt to achieve environmental restoration, the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE) filed a lawsuit to compel relevant government departments to hold companies and directors in the Mintails group to account for the environmental restoration costs. The first hearing is expected to take place on 12 August 2020.[13] [1] South African National Assembly, “Report of the Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources on its oversight visit North West and Gauteng on the 13-14 September 2018, dated 07 November 2018”, Announcements, Tablings and Committee Reports (Cape Town: Parliament of the Republic of South Africa, 2018), 22-52, https://dc.sourceafrica.net/documents/118553-Portfolio-Committee-on-Mineral-Resources-Final.html (accessed November 4, 2019). [2] Gauteng Regional Head Office of the Department of Water and Sanitation of the Republic of South Africa, “Compliance Inspection for Mintails Mining SA Ltd: Mogale Gold,” December 18, 2014, https://dc.sourceafrica.net/documents/118409-DWS-Inspection-Report.html(accessed November 4, 2019); Mariette Lifferink and Lucien Limacher, “Presentation to the Government Task Team on Mintails’ Alleged Environmental Contraventions,” April 19, 2018, https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/s3.sourceafrica.net/documents/118408/LRC-FSE-GTT-PRESENTATION-MINTAILS.pdf (accessed November 4, 2019). [3] South African National Assembly. [4] Lake, David, “Business Rescue Plan: Mintails Mining SA Proprietary Limited”, Mintails Gold SA Proprietary Limited and Mintails SA Randfontein Cluster Proprietary Limited (Johannesburg: Lake Strategic Solutions, 2016), 88., https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/s3.sourceafrica.net/documents/118411/BUSINESS-RESCUE-PLAN-161213-MSARC-Amended.pdf (accessed November 4, 2019). [5] South African National Assembly. [6] It is not completely clear which party purchased Mintails S.A and how the spin-off was eventually realised. The report by the Business Rescue Person David Lake mentions a shift of interests from Paige Limited to Mvest Capital, while the news website Businesslive mentions Paige as the sole creditor after liquidation. See point 5 and 6 in:  David Lake, “Notice in terms of sections 132(3), 141(2)(a)(i), 144(3)(a), 145(1)(a) and 146(a) of the companies act, 2008″, Lake Strategic Solutions, Johannesburg, August 1, 2018, p. 2, https://dc.sourceafrica.net/documents/118415-180801-Notice-to-Affected-Parties-Mintails.html (accessed November 4, 2019) and Mark Olalde, “Mintails directors may face criminal charges”, December 11, 2018, Businesslive, https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/national/2018-12-11-mintails-directors-may-face-criminal-charges/ (accessed November 4, 2019). [7] James Thackray, “Mintails Limited: Effectuation of Deed of Company Arrangement,” HQ Advisory, June 6, 2017. (accessed November 4, 2019); Orminex Limited. “Orminex: 31 March 2018 Quarterly Report,” March 31, 2018. https://orminex.com.au/re-listing-update-and-change-of-asx-code/. (accessed June 21, 2020). [8] In its email reply responding to a request to review this case study, Orminex writes: “we purchased the listed entity [MLI] as a shell company and have never had any association with the South African subsidiary [Mintails South Africa] referred to in your recent email correspondence” (email dated 5 February 2020). The research team has not been able to verify this information, although Mintails’ 2017 annual report, p.4, makes clear that MLI was recapitalised, possibly by new shareholders: https://orminex.com.au/category/annual-reports/ [9] Lake, David, “Notice in terms of sections 132(3), 141(2)(a)(i), 144(3)(a), 145(1)(a) and 146(a) of the companies act, 2008”. [10] Lake, David. “Notice in Terms of Sections 132(3), 141(2)(a)(i), 144(3)(a), 145(1)(a) and 146(a) of the Companies Act, 2008,” 1 August 2018. https://dc.sourceafrica.net/documents/118415-180801-Notice-to-Affected-Parties-Mintails.html (accessed 21 June 2020). [11] Bega; Olalde and Matikinca. [12] South African National Assembly; Mark Olalde and Andiswa Matikinca, “Directors targeted for Mintails mess,” Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism, December 2018, https://oxpeckers.org/2018/12/mintails-directors -targeted/ (accessed 4 November 2019); Sheree Bega, “Illegal miners hit Mintails mine on West Rand,” IOL News, 1 June 2019, https://www.iol.co.za/ saturday-star/watch-illegal-miners-hit-mintails-mine-on-west-rand-24637889 (accessed 4 November 2019). [13]  The federation for a sustainable environment. “FSE’s Notice of Motion and Founding Affidavit: Minitails Group,” September 6, 2019. https://www.fse.org.za/index.php/mining/item/703-fse-s-notice-of-motion-and-founding-affidavit-mintails-group (accessed June 21, 2020).; Bega, Sheree. “A Battle to Hold Mining Company Accountable.” IOL News, February 26, 2020. https://www.iol.co.za/saturday-star/a-battle-to-hold-mining-company-accountable-19518065 (accessed June 21, 2020).     Please visit www.mindthegap.nog  

SA NEWS

Radon Alert - Carte Blanche

Millions of South Africans are exposed to radioactive radon gas in their homes and workplaces every day, as the naturally occurring gas escapes through cracks in the earth. The second leading cause of lung cancer in several countries, radon breaks down and when inhaled, decaying atoms emit alpha radiation that can damage the DNA. There are no safe levels of radon concentration. The United States Environmental Protection Agency emphasises any radon exposure has some risk of causing lung cancer. Carte Blanche investigates why South Africa has no regulations to protect against radon accumulation in the home and what you can do to test your home and prevent lung cancer.   Watch the video here.

WITS Economics & Finance Courses: Mining for Development: The Taxation Linkage

Economics & Finance Courses at the University of the Witwatersrand. Mining for Development: The Taxation Linkage - Understand taxation for development and sustainability in mining. View the course here. Enrolment starts on the 7th of October 2019.

Mining activists in SA face death threats, intimidation and harassment - report

SATURDAY STAR | 19 APRIL 2019, 7:41PM | SHEREE BEGA Picture:Yvette Descham On August 13 2013, Billy M heard gunshots at the gate of his house. He didn't know who fired the gun, and, worried that local traditional leadership might be involved, he didn't report the incident to the police. For the next five years, the community activist from Fuleni, a small rural village in KwaZulu-Natal bordering one of SA's oldest and largest wilderness areas, the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park, continued to receive threats.  "We know our lives are in danger. This is part of the struggle," he says, simply. Billy M's account is contained in a new report released this week, 'We know Our  Lives Are in Danger’: Environment of Fear in South Africa’s Mining-Affected Communities, which documents how community activists in mining areas face harassment, intimidation and violence. The report details how in Billy M's case, mining company Ibutho Coal had applied for rights to develop a coal mine in Fuleni in 2013. The development would have required the relocation of hundreds of people from their homes and farmland and destroy graveyards. "The mine's environmental impact assessment estimated that more than 6000 people living in the Fuleni area would be impacted. Blasting vibration, dust, and floodlights, too, could harm the community," says the report."During the environmental consultation processes, Billy M led opposition that culminated in a protest by community members in April 2016."The company reportedly abandoned the project in 2016 while another firm, Imvukuzane Resources is reportedly interested in mining in the area.The 74-page report, compiled by Human Rights Watch, the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), groundWork, and Earthjustice, describes a system designed to "deter and penalise" mining opponents.The authors conducted interviews with more than 100 activists, community leaders, environmental groups, lawyers representing activists, police and municipal officials, describing the targeting of community rights defenders in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Northwest, and Eastern Cape between 2013 and 2018. They report intimidation, violence, damage to property, the use of excessive force during peaceful protests, and arbitrary arrest for their activities in highlighting the negative impacts of mining projects on their communities. "The attacks and harassment have created an atmosphere of fear for community members who mobilise to raise concerns about damage to their livelihoods from the serious environmental and health risks of mining and coal-fired power plants," write the authors."Women often play a leading role in voicing these concerns, making them potential targets for harassment and attacks."But municipalities often impose barriers to protest on organisers that have no legal basis while government officials have failed to adequately investigate allegations of abuse."Some mining companies resort to frivolous lawsuits and social media campaigns to further curb opposition to their projects.  The government has a Constitutional obligation to protect activists," write the authors. Picture: Shayne Robinson, Section 27 Authorities should address the environmental and health concerns related to mining "instead of harassing the activists voicing these concerns,” remarks Matome Kapa, attorney at the CER.The report starts with the high-profile murder of activist Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe, who was killed at his home after receiving anonymous death threats in 2016. Rhadebe was the chairperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC), a community-based organisation formed in 2007 to oppose mining activity in Xolobeni in the Eastern Cape.  "Members of his community had been raising concerns that the titanium mine that Australian company Mineral Commodities Ltd proposed to develop on South Africa’s Wild Coast would displace the community and destroy their environment, traditions, and livelihoods. More than three years later, the police have not identified any suspects in his killing."Nonhle Mbuthuma, another Xolobeni community leader and spokesperson of the ACC, has also faced harassment and death threats from unidentified individuals. "I know I am on the hit list.… If I am dying for the truth, then I am dying for a good cause. I am not turning back," she says.But other mining areas have had experiences similar to that of Xolobeni. "While Bazooka’s murder and the threats against Nonhle have received domestic and international attention, many attacks on activists have gone unreported or unnoticed both within and outside the  country."This is, in part, because of "fear of retaliation for speaking out, and because police sometimes do not investigate the attacks", the authors found.The origin of these attacks or threats are often unknown. "So are the perpetrators, but activists believe they may have been facilitated by police, government officials, private security providers, or others apparently acting on behalf of mining companies. "Threats and intimidation by other community members against activists often stem from a belief that activists are preventing or undermining an economically-beneficial mining project. In some cases, government officials or representatives of companies deliberately drive and exploit  these community divisions, seeking to isolate and stigmatize those opposing the mine."The Minerals Council South Africa, which represents 77 mining companies, including some in the research areas, responded that it “is not aware of any threats or attacks against community rights defenders where (its) members operate”.The authors state that while the mining sector and the government emphasise how mining is essential for economic development, "they fail to acknowledge that mining comes at a high environmental and social cost, and often takes place without adequate consultation with,or consent of, local communities".The absence of effective government oversight means that mining activities have harmed the rights of communities across South Africa in various ways. "Such activities have depleted water supplies, polluted the air, soil, and water, and destroyed arable land and ecosystems."Researchers also documented cases of police misconduct, arbitrary arrest, and excessive use of force during protests in mining-affected communities, "which is part of a larger pattern in South Africa".Last year, the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) at Wits University documented various efforts by traditional authorities to stifle opposition to mines in their communities. "In some cases, traditional authorities label those opposing mines as anti-development and troublemakers, thus alienating and stigmatising them.As a result, community members are often afraid to speak out against a mine in open consultations," CALS found.Research by the SA Human Rights Commission, too, has found that community members sometimes “are afraid to openly oppose the mine for fear of intimidation or unfavourable treatment (by the Traditional Authority)."The SAHRC says many mining-affected communities are experiencing “the creation of tension and division within communities as a result of mining operations.Sometimes, threats and intimidation against activists come from community members who have been promised economic benefit from the proposed project or are politically allied with the government or traditional authority."Local communities often do not benefit from mining activities, says the report. "Although South African law requires the development of social and labour plans (SLPs) that establish binding commitments by mining companies to benefit communities and mine workers, CALS has documented significant flaws in the development and implementation of SLPs."Despite the environmental and social costs of mining, the government is not adequately enforcing relevant environmental standards and mining regulations throughout South Africa. The SAHRC has found that the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) often fails to hold mining companies accountable, "imposing few or no consequences for unlawful activities and therefore shifting the costs of pollution to local communities."Compliance with regulatory obligations, as well as monitoring and enforcement of such responsibilities, remains a crucial concern in the context of mining activities," says the SAHRC, noting how the DMR and other governmental agencies often do not respond to complaints filed against mines by community members.The report's authors describe how the lack of government action and oversight has also helped make the mining industry one of the least transparent industries in South Africa. Information that communities require to understand the impacts of mines and to hold mining companies accountable for harmful activities is often not publicly available. "Such information includes environmental authorisations, environmental management programs, waste management licences, atmospheric emission licences, mining rights, mining work programmes, social and labour plans, or compliance and enforcement information."The only way to access such information is through a request under South Africa’s access to information law, a procedure that the World Health Organisation has called 'seriously flawed' and which the DMR regularly flouts. In addition, mining companies and the government rarely consult meaningfully with communities during the mining approval process, resulting in uninformed and poor government and industry decisions that do not reflect community perspectives or have their support," says the report.The authors assert how the threats, attacks, and other forms of intimidation against community rights defenders and environmental groups have created an environment of fear "that prevents mining opponents from exercising their rights to freedom of opinion, expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and undermines their ability to defend themselves from the threats of mining".In its November 2018 review of South Africa’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed concern about “reports of human rights defenders, particularly those working to promote and defend the rights under the Covenant in the mining and environmental sectors, being threatened and harassed". It recommended that South Africa provide a safe and favourable environment for the work of human rights defenders to promote and protect economic, social, and cultural rights, including by "ensuring that all reported cases of intimidation, harassment, and violence against human rights defenders are promptly and thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators are brought to justice". Mining activist Mariette Liefferink, who made submissions to the UN committee, tells how it has become increasingly difficult to work as an environmental rights defender in South Africa.   "There is an overwhelming body of evidence of intimidation, whether it is by means of frontal attacks or more insidious attacks on activists."International and South African law requires South Africa to guarantee the rights of all people to life, security, freedoms of opinion, expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and the rights to health and a healthy environment, say the authors."The attacks, threats, and obstacles to peaceful protest described in this report prevent many community activists in South Africa from exercising these rights to oppose or raise concerns about mines, in violation of South Africa’s obligations." 

Changing the narrative: The women who inspired the City Press team

City Press Reporters | 2019-08-09 05:00 Image source: Stock/Gallo images   As part of our jobs, journalists meet all sorts of people, from celebrities to politicians. Often, we walk away feeling dejected and despondent. But sometimes, the people we interview leave us feeling invigorated and inspired. These are some of them: Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, small business minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni at her swearing in as an MP by chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. Picture: Cebile Ntuli Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, South Africa’s small business minister, once tried to persuade Nelson Mandela to get the ANC to negotiate that 16 be the voting age. She was 14 at the time. It was the 1990s, during the heady days of the Convention for a Democratic SA. President Cyril Ramaphosa was present during the interaction. The interaction with Madiba planted the seeds of “focus and determination” in Ntshavheni, who says these are the same character traits that, years later, defined the role she played as municipal manager of Ba-Phalaborwa Local Municipality in Limpopo – in particular, the lesson that “age, gender and race have no bearing on my ability to achieve my set targets despite the obstacles”. At age 42, Ntshavheni is one of the youngest ministers in the new Cabinet. One of her most pressing tasks is to ask Parliament to amend the Small Business Act to better deal with current issues facing the sector. This will entail updating the act to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to access funding from state agencies and the banking sector, and to ensure that small businesses are paid within the prescribed 21 days. She says big business, too, ought to assist in creating access to markets for small traders and, as a measure of last resort, “if we need to set quotas, it should be so”. Ntshavheni believes that if small businesses are able to survive the first five years of being established and could grow to medium-sized businesses, job creation would boom. “To achieve this, we need to remove the red tape, improve their cash flow through paying them on time, help them access markets for their products, and upskill them for proper financial management.” Sufficient groundwork has been done, she says, and now it is time for implementation. – Setumo Stone Read: New minister knows all about small business Barbara Creecy, minister of forestry, fisheries and environmental affairs Barbara Creecy. Picture: The Daily Sun Barbara Creecy is the first to admit that she inherited a department that is in good shape. But she is in no doubt of the importance of her new job. SA’s latest minister of environment, forestry and fisheries took over the old environmental affairs department earlier this year, with two new entities having been added to its functions: forestry and fisheries. These previously fell under the department of agriculture. Creecy says: “Some of the most pressing issues of our time, such as climate change, fall under this portfolio. President Cyril Ramaphosa is committed to creating jobs and fighting poverty, and this portfolio will play a big role as it is responsible for the sustainability, conservation and management of our natural resources.” Creecy reiterates her intention to gain a deeper understanding of the departments in her ministry. “There has been a lot of focus on the ocean economy. This is not just to do with fishing but also with the fact that South Africa has a 2 500km coastline, which calls into question what our role is with regard to shipping.” She says forestry is a big commercial activity that can contribute immensely to economic growth and jobs, particularly in the neighbouring province of Mpumalanga and elsewhere in the country. She says that while she is trying to learn fast so she can hit the ground running, she is also “fortunate, because even if I have never been at national government before, I have served at executive level in the provincial government for 15 years”. “I have had three diverse portfolios – in sports, education and finance. What that has taught me to do is ask: ‘How do I enter into a leadership space and quickly understand what the issues are, and how do I then look at starting to add value?’” – Setumo Stone Read: Barbara Creecy will build on work of predecessors as she inherits department in ‘good shape’ Pemmy Majodina, chief whip ANC new Chief Whip Pemmy Majodina. Picture: Misheck Makora ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina has made a name for herself among fashion watchers with her love of sheer, loud-coloured fabrics and big, brim-feathered hats. But her presence was impressive enough for the ANC’s national executive committee, which resolved that she would take up the top job of chief whip. Majodina grew up as an orphan, is a “ruralitarian” from Sterkspruit, Eastern Cape, a preacher in the Methodist church, and mother to a young man named Mkhonto weSizwe, a name born out of a need to preserve history and also an ode to the “glorious army” she served in. In her first address to the media alongside ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, Majodina boldly proclaimed that the new parliamentary caucus would not be “lame ducks”. The chief whip said she was making reference to the need for the ANC to revisit its understanding of its role of oversight in Parliament. “As members of the ANC we must understand that we have a judiciary with a clear mandate, we have an executive with a clear mandate and a legislature with a clear mandate. If you can internalise that then you will know your role as the legislature. “In the previous terms the ANC has been accused of asking darling questions and that we don’t hold the executive to account, and so on. The Constitution is very clear: there is a separation of powers. We as the legislature have a mandate to play an oversight role over the executive.” The fifth Parliament was a tumultuous one, with it standing accused of failing in holding to account former president Jacob Zuma. While emphasising the need for natural justice to be observed, Majodina is adamant that ANC members who serve in the executive and are found to be involved in wrongdoing will find no refuge in Parliament. “If a matter comes to Parliament it must come. There is no one higher than the law. If we swear in a member today and tomorrow there is a damning report that finds the member guilty, we are not going to be defending an individual. We are here to preserve the values of the ANC. Whoever is found to be on the wrong side of the law must face the music.” The chief whip will be making a comeback to Parliament, having served in the National Council of Provinces from 1999 to 2004 before making her way to the Eastern Cape government, where she was deployed in five different departments. She argues that this makes her no newcomer to the legislature. “My vision is to make ANC members in Parliament accountable to their constituencies first. We are going to play an oversight role by ensuring that every item committed to in the manifesto is implemented. “And if there is anything that cannot be done, it must be explained, because as we worked across the country, people were saying that when things change they are not informed.” – S’thembile Cele Read: New chief whip Pemmy Majodina plans to sebenza all the way Nompendulo Mkhatshwha, ANC member of Parliament Nompendulo Mkhatshwa pictured in 2016 when she was Wits SRC president. Picture: Thapelo Maphakel Well known for the iconic image showing her in an ANC doek, her fist in the air, which was shot at the height of the #FeesMustFall movement, activist Nompendulo Mkhatshwa (25) is now one of the 230 ANC MPs representing the party. Mkhatshwa rose to prominence in 2015, while studying for her BSc degree at Wits University. She was leader of the Students’ Representative Council (SRC). She has also worked part-time as a researcher at Luthuli House. Mkhatshwa was short-listed at number 101 on the ANC’s national list of individuals to head to Parliament. She represents the future of the ANC in all respects – a young woman and a gender activist who is driven by the plight of the youth and women. Mkhatshwa has risen through the ranks of the ruling party, however, she has clearly not forgotten her roots. In her maiden speech in Parliament in June, she highlighted the struggles of incarcerated #FeesMustFall activists. Using her platform as an MP, Mkhatshwa reminded society that a nation could not be built while others are left behind academically and economically. Mkhatshwa said while the protests by students in 2015 and 2016 have resulted in great strides in the higher education space, it was concerning that some activists were still behind bars for fighting for free tertiary education. – Juniour Khumalo Read: Who’s getting the House in order? Youngsters and oldies will share the benches in Parliament Naledi Chirwa, EFF MP Naledi Chirwa (EFF). Picture: Jaco Marais Student activist Naledi Chirwa (24) has rising in the ranks from serving as deputy president of the student representative council at Tshwane North College and fighting tirelessly to expose the debilitating circumstances of black people, black students and black women in the tertiary education space to now being counted among the EFF’s growing contingent in the National Assembly. Introduced to student politics in 2010, Chirwa rose to serve as the media and communications officer for the EFF Students Command. And has also been tireless in elevating the plight of jailed or student leaders facing criminal charges in to public discourse. In her maiden speech at the National Assembly in June, Chirwa further entrench her optimistic ideology that young people are not prepared to sit on the sidelines while decisions are being made about them. So powerful was Chirwa’s speech that even veteran parliamentarian Yunus Carrim asked: “What is this youth fundamentalism?” With youthful female leaders like Chirwa there is no doubt that young people, like generations before them, are making their mark for all to see.   – Juniour Khumalo Read: Who’s getting the House in order? Youngsters and oldies will share the benches in Parliament Yugen Blakrok, hip-hop musician Yugen Blakrok who is feature on the Black Panther soundtrack that was released two weeks ago. Picture: Supplied Yugen Blakrok hails from the Queenstown, Eastern Cape but her work has propelled her to France, from where she spoke to #Trending earlier this year. Last year her star elevated to the heights of Hollywood when she appeared on the acclaimed Black Panther soundtrack. She featured on a track called Opps with US rapper and west coast representative Vince Staples, as well as Kendrick Lamar, who produced the album. The experience for her was something she could not have imagined before. “By featuring on a release that big and completely foreign to me, I learnt many valuable lessons. Vince is a funny dude and a great artist, live as well. I thoroughly enjoyed performing with him when he was in South Africa.” The two shared a stage at Zone 6 Venue in Soweto when Vince toured here last year. The streets had mixed reactions to the performance as the sound was perhaps not at the level it should’ve been. Opps is a street term referring to opponents or opposition and features Kendrick Lamar doing his usual nonsense on the hook. Thankfully he makes way for the two emcees. She is adamant that locally produced art can thrive internationally and she hopes that would motivate the local industry to treat our artists better and increase the chances of lucrative gains. She is inspired by artists who have managed to shape their own lane in the arts, those who go against the grain, much like she does. “I’m not one of those rappers that started at an early age. I didn’t always know what I wanted to do after I finished school.” She first appeared on a mixtape in 2004 and only after that did the idea that she could do this professionally dawn on her. “Before then, I was just playing with words.” – Phumlani S Langa Read: Get to know Yugen Blakrok, empress of the underground Mokgadi Mabela, honey producer Mokgadi Mabela, founder of Native Nosi. (Image supplied) Within African traditional medicine, honey has been used since time immemorial for its physical healing abilities, as well as for its symbolic and spiritual significance. However, not all honey runs rich with the aforementioned therapeutic properties. Approximately 60% of the honey on South African supermarket shelves is imported and irradiated to a point where nutritional benefits are negligible. Mokgadi Mabela, a third-generation beekeeper, harvests and sells pure, raw honey from environmentally sustainable hives placed on farms and in rural communities across Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo. Last year, she sold almost two tons of her multiaward-winning local honey brand Native Nosi – most of it via her online shop. She attributes her success to the fact that “customers increasingly want to know where their food comes from and how it has been produced”. “I place the hives, inspect the hives and harvest the honey. I can guarantee that my honey hasn’t been tampered with and our bees were not fed artificial nutrients. I can tell you exactly where the honey in every pot I produce comes from, as well as the conditions in that particular place.” When it comes to honey, local really is lekker. Mokgadi explains that “the closer the honey was produced to the location of your specific home, the more antibodies that pertain to your specific circumstances it will contain. The bees will have fed on the flowers in your environment and those are the ones from which the pollen allergens that affect you come.” Native Nosi honey is not only healthy, it is also delicious and diverse. Mokgadi says “Nosi is the Sotho word for honey bee. To me, Native Nosi represents pure, natural unadulterated honey products produced locally and in harmony, and it also represents continuity with my past and present. My grandfather and my father were beekeepers before me, and I hope that Native Nosi reflects a respect for their skills and wisdom, and reveals a love connection in everything we do. “Historically, bees have been associated with ancestral communication and, in my case, that connection is very direct. I hope my grandfather would be pleased that, even though I didn’t meet him, he was sowing the seed for what I do. Generations along the line, he would recognise my passion and commitment. I only know my grandfather through the stories that others tell, but all of those show him to be a man worthy of respect. It pleases me to honour that image. I want to respect his legacy. I want to make him proud.” – Anna Trapido Read: How Mokgadi Mabela built award-winning local honey brand Native Nosi Mariette Liefferink, mining activist Activist Mariette Liefferink Johannesburg’s mines have contaminated virtually everything in the city – from the water, to the air, to the ground. While some communities live on radioactive land, others struggle with water laden with heavy metals. And nobody knows this more than environmental activist Mariette Liefferink, who features in the documentary Jozi Gold directed by South African writer, award-winning journalist, playwright and film maker Sylvia Vollenhoven and award-winning Swedish director and journalist Fredrik Gertten. Liefferink is the kind of subject film makers dream of. The documentary’s opening shot sees her traipsing around an excavated field in sky-high heels, dressed to a tee in black tights, an orange blazer and plenty of jewellery. A soft-spoken tannie with a clipped Afrikaans accent and coiffed blonde hair, she tells us later that she used to be a Jehovah’s Witness, so she’s used to be being “severely disliked”. And dislike is a feeling she must drum up, as she chases down the CEOs of mining companies and holds the government department officials to account for exposing people to hazardous mining pollution. Liefferink says she sees herself as a marathon runner instead of a sprinter, because her work requires a great deal of stamina. In one scene, we watch her patiently phone a government department to lay a complaint about the discharge of untreated mine water into a river system. It’s the 10th time she’s phoning, and she’s again sent from pillar to post. She hangs up cordially, then blinks away tears. But hounding the government officials – too often unsuccessfully – is not her primary work. Liefferink believes that environmental and social justice are inextricably linked, and she works with communities to hold mining companies to account. In one case, she laid a criminal complaint at the local police against the former owner of the Blyvoor mine, for numerous environmental infractions committed between 2008 and this year. She didn’t think anything would come of it, but to her surprise, the state decided to prosecute the mining directors responsible. It’s a huge victory for the Blyvoor community, which has been dealing with the effects of mining pollution for years. A third of all the gold in human history was mined in Johannesburg, and it was what gave birth to the city. But now we’re dealing with an environmental crisis that few of us even know the extent of. – Grethe Kemp Read: Jozi Gold reveals shocking truths about mining pollution Justa Frans, tracker Justa Frans Making the choice to keep her Kwhe family traditions alive, 25-year-old Justa Frans went on a journey to learn the art of wildlife tracking. Now she’s the first formally accredited female tracker in the Karoo. The settlement of Platfontein, about 22km from Kimberley, in the Northern Cape, is home to the Kwhe and !Xun descendants of the San Namibian trackers. In the 60s they were first deployed by t he Portuguese Angolan military forces in Angola, and later in the 70s by the former SA Defence Force in the Namibian struggle for independence. After that war ended many chose to relocate to South Africa. Frans’ family was one such. This 25-year-old was determined to keep alive her Kwhe family traditions so she made a choice. She rejected the modern hip-hop culture burgeoning in Platfontein and is threatening the old folklore, storytelling, traditional music and healing dances. “I didn’t want to lose my culture,” she says. “I chose tracking.” Frans now works at the Karoo Lodge in the award-winning Samara Private Game Reserve located on 28 000 hectares of wilderness in the middle of the Eastern Cape. Last year she graduated from the Sact Tracker Academy, a training division of the SA College for Tourism in Tswalu, South Africa’s largest private game reserve in the Northern Cape. It’s a fully accredited training programme with the Culture, Arts, Tourism, Hospitality and Sport Sector Education and Training Authority and is the first tracker training school in South Africa to achieve this distinction. Frans graduated with a Level 3 tracking qualification that requires a 90% score. “I was taken into the bush. I thought it was just a classroom day. But it turned out to be the exam.” She is now working as an intern at Samara Reserve that also has a tracker academy on site, and hopes to be appointed to a permanent position. She is thrilled that Samara has recently become home to the first elephants and lions in the region for more than 170 years. “I can now track the Big Five.” She laughs as she says that guests are usually very surprised to have a woman tracker on their guided game drives and bush walks. “I love to see their faces!” Her ambition now is to get her driver’s licence and to teach other students, especially women, tracking skills. “Tracking is in my blood,” says Frans firmly. “I know that in the past it was only the men who did the tracking but now a woman can too.” She adds shyly: “Sometimes now the men are a bit jealous.” – Kate Turkington Read: Meet Justa Frans, the Karoo’s first formally accredited female tracker Portia Mavhungu, social innovator Portia Muvhungu Portia Mavhungu invented a device that allows those in wheelchairs to use the toilet without having to be lifted from their chair. Thirty-year-old Mavhungu, a Pretoria-based social entrepreneur, called her invention the Para Tube. She came up with the idea after being confined to a wheelchair for a while after an accident. “In 2011, I had an accident where I broke my pelvis. I was in the hospital for several weeks and in a wheelchair for the rest of the year. I fell into a depression over the loss of my independence. I needed my mother to lift me every time I needed to use the toilet. “I was in this situation for only a short time and thought about how hard it would be for those who experience this their whole lives.” With the Para Tube, the user pulls the centre part of the seat forward with a handle, and the middle seat flips up in the shape of a toilet. The user then defecates or urinates into a biodegradable bag in the opening. The bag locks in any smell and can then be disposed of in a similar way to a nappy. This invention is the first of its kind. Its efficiency and use of material offer greater comfort and ease than anything else available on the market. “The commode, which is our competitor, uses a bucket system. The commode seat is hard and people start sweating and develop sores, and their backs are hurt,” says Mavhungu. “With us, the seating is breathable material. It has PVC in the centre, so you’re able to wipe it. The seat is waterproof and the height of the seat protects the user’s lumbar spine.” The device will also be a great help in hospitals. “We have a shortage of nurses in South Africa,” says Mavhungu. “When you’re in a hospital, you have to wait for a nurse to lift you and place a steel bedpan underneath you. “I remember being in hospital with a broken pelvis and being taken off morphine. The nurses would put a bedpan underneath me and leave me, and I would just be shaking and in pain and waiting for the nurse to come back to take me off the bedpan.” Mavhungu says she didn’t decide to become an inventor, but always knew she wanted to help people. Her mother died from cancer in 2017, and she left her job to focus on developing the Para Tube. “What drives me is the passion. I know I’ve succeeded when someone has used the device and it’s helped them,” she says. – Grethe Kemp Read: This SA-invented device helps the disabled use the toilet Bongiwe Msomi, netball player  Netball Proteas captain playing for her home team Umgungundlovu during day four of the of the SPAR National Netball Championships at the University of Johannesburg sports grounds on Thursday. Picture: Palesa Dlamini/City Press Bongiwe Msomi (31) is the captain of the applause-deserving South African Netball Proteas team that reached the playoffs at the 2019 Netball World Cup in Liverpool for the first time in 24 years. Having started playing netball at the tender age of 16 Msomi said she could never have imagined herself playing for the national squad let alone leading the team. “Being selected to play for the national team has been the highlight of the 15 years I have been plaing netball. I have played overseas, in countries including Australia and England but the best thing for me, I can never take away the moment I was announced as a South African national player,” she said. Msomi said she never purposefully got in to the sport which now holds a special place not just in her heart but in her life. “Where I grew up soccer and netball were the major sports. Even when I tried things like athletics I realised I was nowhere close to being good. So I went to watch some neighbourhood friends in one of their netball training sessions one day and they were one player short and that is how I got into netball,” she said. The Proteas captain said she is glad that she took up the sport because it has a lot to offer young girls. She has been captain for more than three years and said she could not be prouder. “I am part of this amazing team and representing my country is humbling,” Msomi excitedly said. South Africa is set to host the next edition of the Netball World Cup, in Cape Town in 2023. – Palesa Dlamini

WATER

Fears of long term damage to SA's water supply as eutrophication strangles rivers and dams | IOL

Toxic green algae in the Vaal River is caused by eutrophication, which harms water quality and impacts river life. Supplied Article by Sheree Bega The black, sewage-contaminated water that flows from the Rietspruit into the Loch Vaal is so polluted that even algae struggles to grow in its polluted depths. “All we get is black sewage sludge in areas where there’s less current,” explains Mike Gaade, who lives on the banks of the Rietspruit in Vanderbijlpark. But sightings of cyanobacteria blooms of toxic blue-green algae in the main Vaal River, caused by sewage, are becoming more frequent, particularly in summer, he says. That the Vaal is becoming eutrophic is a real concern, says water scientist Professor Anthony Turton. Eutrophication causes an overgrowth of algae that harms water quality, reduces oxygen, produces toxins, impacts river and marine life and affects food and human health. “Once a water body becomes eutrophic and cyanobacteria becomes established, no known method in SA has ever been able to reverse that process,” Turton explains. SA’s most eutrophic water is in Hartbeespoort Dam - the most studied of all systems. “Despite the very best scientists being unleashed on the problem, we have been unable to restore the system to its previous trophic status. With our current available knowledge, it’s safe to believe the Vaal is now becoming eutrophic and this is going to persist as the the new normal.” Eutrophication is the “logical outcome” of discharging high levels of phosphates and nitrates into river systems - natural nutrients that drive the production of plant biomass. “Biomass typically takes two forms in SA - the familiar problem of water hyacinth at Hartbeestpoort Dam and the cyanobacteria blooms of blue-green algae that the Vaal is now succumbing to.” The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has now released its draft inception report for its National Eutrophication Strategy. The strategy, with its 10-year horizon, seeks to provide guidance to the DWS and water sector at large “on strategies to avoid, reduce, mitigate and manage the effects of eutrophication on SA’s water resources”. It notes that the project was initially started in 2002 and “never completed” but was reinstated last year. “The issue of eutrophication had not received adequate attention, previously, which could have been one of the reasons the situation exacerbated even more,” reads the report. The Integrated Water Quality Management (IWQM) Policies and Strategies for SA in 2016 and 2017 "emphasised eutrophication as one of the country’s pressing water-quality challenges, along with salinisation, acid mine drainage, urban pollution and sedimentation”, it states. Eutrophication, says Turton, is an old problem that has now reached “catastrophic proportions” due mostly to the failure of the DWS in its role as national regulator. “DWS has allowed the Blue and Green Drop Reporting Standard to fall into dysfunction. This has allowed municipalities to act with impunity knowing they will never be sanctioned for non-compliance. The biggest culprit is the 824 wastewater treatment works (sewage plants) we have in every municipality. About 60% of them are now dysfunctional, so they collectively discharge over 5billion litres of sewage into our rivers daily. We draw our drinking water from those same rivers.” No bulk water provider in the country that takes water from a river and produces potable water uses technology capable of removing the toxic by-product of eutrophic water: microcystin. “This is a potent molecule that is released when the cyanobacteria is distressed. The molecule becomes parts of the water and cannot be filtered out from the water. “This means that South African citizens will increasingly be exposed to microcystin as long as our wastewater plants continue to fail. “Eutrophication is a slow onset disaster that will plague SA for the next generation. The manifestation will increasingly be in the form of low dose but long-term exposure to microcystin. The coronavirus has merely added a new complication, because of the potential for faecal-oral transmission through contaminated rivers.” Satellite work by the CSIR has already revealed that 60% of the country’s dams are eutrophic. Sightings of blue-green algae, caused by sewage, is becoming more frequent, especially in summer. Supplied In his 2015 paper, “Living with Eutrophication in SA: A review of realities and challenges”, scientist William Harding noted how the socio-economic well-being of SA is largely dependent on reservoir lakes, with between 41% and 76% of total storage eutrophic or hypertrophic. “This is in stark contrast to a claimed 5% made by the DWS. Data and information on the incidence and toxicity of cyanobacterial blooms are sparse, yet severe problems exist The most seriously impacted reservoirs are located in the economic heartland of SA, which has an extant regional water-quality crisis.” Many of SA’s rivers, reservoirs, and coastal lakes “no longer have the resilience to assimilate nutrients or sequestrate toxicants”, the paper found. “The responsible agency (DWS) urgently needs to establish a reservoir management programme that embraces remaining individual and institutional memory, integrates all available knowledge and scientific findings, prioritises needs and acquires those skills and resources necessary to meet what is likely to become a crippling legacy of inaction.” Eutrophication is a “big challenge and the situation is worsening”, says CSIR senior researcher Dr Melusi Thwala, who studies emerging environmental pollutants and water quality. “However, it is mostly dams/large impoundments that have historically faced such a challenge because they act as reservoirs in which pollutants such as nutrients can accumulate over time. “For instance, in excess of 40% of approximately 500 large impoundments are eutrophic and others exhibit a character of non-natural nutrient enrichment. “For river systems more and more cases are being observed but in smaller systems the rainy season can provide a dilution relief effect, but not so much in large systems such as the Vaal and Olifants rivers.” Their hard-working nature means that large river systems receive continuous and large nutrient inputs from various anthropogenic (human-caused) activities, with “municipal wastewater treatment works being a priority input source due to their declining capacity to treat wastewater”. “Simply put, the more human settlements, the more sewage waste is produced, sometimes exceeding the volumes that wastewater treatment works can handle. Agricultural and industrial activities also contribute nutrients into rivers,” Thwala says. Mariette Liefferink, the chief executive of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, says the most important drivers of eutrophication are dysfunctional waste water treatment works, dense informal settlements without proper sanitation, vandalism of sewage reticulation systems and sewage spills over many years into receiving streams. “The tipping point has already been reached, beyond which, our ecosystems can no longer absorb and process the nutrients and other pollutants being passed on to it.” The actions proposed by the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan is to by 2020, “identify and prosecute big polluters across the country (including municipalities), with a national communication campaign to accompany the action inclusive of reviving the Blue Scorpions”. “The above-mentioned actions must be implemented concurrently with the development of the National Eutrophication Strategy," she says. "Failure to prosecute municipalities and other polluters will render the objectives of the strategy impotent.” Eutrophication is a core priority of the Integrated National Water Resource Strategy and was identified as an issue of concern by the DWS in 2009. It was highlighted in the Continuation of the Integrated Vaal River System Reconciliation Strategy Study (Phase 2) in March last year as an "unaddressed issue of concern". Tackling it is entirely reliant on activities performed within the DWS, catchment management agencies (CMAs), together with other institutions within the water sector, Liefferink says. “However, the lethargy in completing the roll-out and delegations to CMAs is a major issue of concern. The development of the strategy is at risk to be aborted unless CMAs become functional.” Eutrophication is a "crisis of unprecedented proportions", says Turton made all the more problematic because few people outside of the aquatic sciences and environmental health community "are aware that such a problem even exists”.

Vaal sewage spills into parts of Vereeniging as residents complain about it getting into their homes | IOL

Sewage continues to spill into the Vaal River, on to the streets of Vereeniging ...