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West Wits asks for chance as Florida, Soweto oppose mining

Tuesday, 31 July 2018 12:24
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 By Charlotte Mathews -

July 27, 2018

Mine dump near Soweto

ALL West Wits really wants is “a fair go” at mining responsibly, chairman Michael Quinert said on Thursday.

He was addressing a media briefing to “bust some myths” that have arisen in local media about the ASX-listed group’s plans to mine for gold from open pits and underground near the suburbs of Florida in Roodepoort and Meadowlands East in Soweto.

Local residents have formed action groups to fight West Wits’ application for a mining licence, expressing concerns about noise, dust, and water pollution.

This is a very degraded area – a “moonscape”, in Quinlan’s own words – as a result of past mining. West Wits’ 6,000 hectare site is surrounded by old dumps which are tainting air and water and overrun by illegal miners or zama-zamas.

The legacy of Mintails, another ASX-listed company that treated dumps near Krugersdorp and Randfontein, lingers in popular memory. Mintails was put into business rescue about three years ago, with huge unfunded environmental liabilities.

Communities are opposed to West Wits’ plans because of the legacy they are experiencing from past gold mining, Mariette Liefferink, CEO of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE) and a well-known local environmental activist, said.

“Mintails left behind massive open pits with no fences or warning signs. Communities are no longer under-educated about the impact of mining and they have seen no medium to longer term benefits, only that future generations will inherit an irreparably destroyed ecosystem, acid mine drainage and dust from tailings storage dams,” she said.

Quinert said West Wits’ assets were never owned by Mintails.

The only connection between the companies was that Mintails held a stake in West Wits which was sold about a decade ago. Although it has no interest in taking over Mintails’ assets as dump processing is not its strategy, West Wits has an interest with other businesses in the area in addressing the problem of the dumps around its site and is making constructive suggestions on how to address it.

West Wits believes by mining responsibly it can help to clean up the area by extracting the near-surface gold that is attracting artisanals and then sealing up the shafts that they are using to go underground.

But some locals have argued that West Wits’ plans are threatening the livelihood of the zama-zamas and it would be a better solution to legalise them and allow them to mine on this site – or at least employ them.

Quinert strongly disagreed.

He said although the zama-zamas were good at finding the reef, they operated in a lawless universe, working hard and drinking hard, which did not make them ideal employees. “We do not believe they are good for the economy. They are too difficult to licence and regulate,” he said.

BLASTING PROMISES

West Wits is targeting a resource of about 3.7 million ounces showing an average grade of 3.6g/t to a cut-off depth of 400 metres. It plans to extract gold from various open pits, each with a life of six to eight months before it will be re-filled, for the first five years and then move underground from years six to 30. Profits from open pit mining will be used to fund underground development.

Although West Wits is being blamed for blasting in the area, this is coming from a dynamite factory nearby and some artisanal activity, Quinert said. Open pit mining will not entail any blasting. West Wits will use a new technology called an Xcentric Ripper, which is attached to an excavator, and is about 30% quieter than a rock hammer.

At this stage it is likely to blast once it goes underground in year six, if it cannot use the Ripper, but he expects those blasts will be too deep to be felt in surrounding residential areas.

There will be no crushing or processing on site. West Wits will use the spare processing capacity in the area owned by companies like Sibanye. It will truck its ore to the processors and is working with property developers to take ore roads away from houses. There will be no tailings dam on this site.

In its submission, the FSE suggested the most practicable solution would not be more open pit or deep underground mining, which creates risks for surrounding communities, but reclamation of the tailings storage facilities that belong to Mintails.

BOJANALA EMF PES OF RIVERS AND DAMS - SUBMISSION BY FSE

DESCRIPTION OF THE PRESENT ECOLOGICAL STATUS OF THE RIVERS AND DAMS WITHIN THE CROCODILE WEST/LIMPOPO WATER MANAGEMENT AREA

The Reserve, which has priority over other water uses, provides for two components; (1) basic human needs, ensuring that the essential needs of individuals served by the water resource directly are provided for; and (2) the ecological reserve ensuring that the water required to protect aquatic ecosystems of the water resources is provide for.  Providing for the ecological water requirements is a legal priority. Implementation of the Ecological Reserve is expected to result in serious deficits in the Crocodile West/Limpopo Water Management Area.

The overall present ecological status of this Water Management Area[1] is a D/E category[2] due to industrial (including current mining activities), domestic and commercial effluents, sewage, dysfunctional Waste Water Treatment Works’ (WWTWs), agricultural run-off and litter, over-abstraction of groundwater and eutrophication problems.  Much of the area has low rainfall with significant inter-dependencies for water resources between catchments and with neighbouring Water Management Areas, e.g. the Vaal.

A large part of future potential mining is in areas of water scarcity.   In some areas water is already ‘flowing’ from agriculture to mining.  The biggest impact of mines is on water quality -a threat to the resource that cannot be brushed away.

The DWS’ Report on the Classification of Significant Water Resources in the Crocodile (West) Marico WMA and Matlabas and Mokolo Catchments:  Limpopo WMA and the DWS’ Business Case for the Limpopo CMA (September 2013) show a dramatic increase in water demands in this Area as a result of:

  1. Current mining activities and proposed mining activities
  2. Sasol’s proposed Maphuta coal to liquid fuel projects
  3. The exploitation of the vast coal reserves in the Waterberg;
  4. The expansion of the Grootegeluk mine to supply the new Medupi Power Station with coal; and
  5. Matimba and Medupi - three new Eskom power stations in the future

Many of the rivers in this Water Management Area host important wetland systems, freshwater ecosystem priority areas and are important for water supply and biodiversity.

Poor water quality does not only affect associated sediments and aquatic life, but has an effect on terrestrial ecosystems and the economy as well.  Polluted water may also pose health threats to recreational and domestic water.

Quantity of water is inextricably linked to water quality.  Polluted water is not treated at source but is allowed to flow into rivers.  South Africa is a water poor country with only 8.6% of its rainfall being available as surface water.  There is therefore no opportunity for the dilution of polluted water.

The DWS developed the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan, the classification of water resources, the determination of Resource Quality Objectives and the determination of the Reserve for the major water management areas such as the Crocodile West/Limpopo and Vaal Water Management Areas, the National Water and Sanitation Water Quality Strategy and Policy, the Mine Water Management Policy, etc. All these plans, strategies and policies exist in vain if they are not delivered through action and through the recognition that “you cannot drink paper plans”. 

PRESENT ECOLOGICAL STATUS OF THE MOKOLO, MATLABAS, CROCODILE (WEST) AND MARICO CATCHMENTS IN THE LIMPOPO NORTH WEST WATER MANAGEMENT AREA[3]

Upper Hennops and Rietvlei Rivers to inflow to Rietvlei Dam

This is a threatened system.  It includes wetland freshwater ecosystem priority areas, pans, peatlands and valley bottom wetlands. The present ecological status of the river is a D/E category due to urbanisation, return flows and poor water quality.  The river reach is significantly impacted by agricultural activities, industrial and urban effluent discharges.

The aquifer is highly impacted by land based activities and pollution.

Rietvlei Dam

This dam supplies Tshwane with raw water.  Water quality impacts remain a threat to the system. Flow into the dam is supported by Waste Water Treatment Works (WWTW) discharges. The dam is located within the Rietvlei Nature reserve, which is an important protected area. The Rietvlei wetland system is situated immediately upstream of the Rietvlei Dam within the Rietvlei Dam Nature Reserve. The wetland is a peatland.

Hennops River from outflow Rietvlei Dam to the A21B catchment (including Sesmylspruit, Kaalspruit and Olifantspruit tributaries)

This system is degraded owing to upstream waste water treatment works (WWTW).  Includes the Sesmylspruit, Kaalspruit and Olifantspruit tributaries. The present ecological status of the river is a D/E category due to urbanisation, return flows and poor water quality.

Upper Pienaars River, Edendalespruit and Moretlele Rivers to Roodeplaat Dam

This system supports the supply of water to Roodeplaat Dam. Abstraction by Magalies Water indirectly tunnel (used by Tshwane). This system is degraded owing to upstream waste water treatment works (WWTW).  The present ecological status of the river is a E category due to urbanisation, return flows and poor water quality. FEPA wetlands are present. The system is overall degraded with a present

Upper Crocodile/Hennops/Hartebeespoort

This dam is eutrophic with algal blooms impacting on the taste of the water. The dam is depended upon for the supply of raw water. It is a conservation area, and supports a wide range of recreational activities (international training for canoeists during summer). Toxic algal blooms are present. Severely impacted by WWTWs discharges, urbanisation and industrial effluent. 

Upper and middle reaches of Apies River, Skinnerspruit, Pienaars River from outflow Roodeplaat Dam to Boekenhoutpruit confluence, Roodeplaatspruit, Boekenhoutspruit

The upper parts of the catchment are impacted by urbanization, irrigation runoff and WWTWs. The Ecological Importance and Sensitivity (EIS) is high.

Jukskei, Klein Jukskei, Modderfonteinspruit

It includes the headwaters of Jukskei. WWTWs located both upstream and downstream of these systems which includes the transfers for Mokolo (Lephalale). The systems are highly impacted from nutrient input thus threatening the biotic integrity of the systems. Serious water quality problems exist as the river is severely impacted by WWTWs discharges (from nine WWTWs), urbanisation and industrial effluent. The present ecological status is an E category.

Upper reaches of Crocodile River and Bloubank Spruit

This is the headwaters of the Crocodile River. Tourism activities are high. Water users include agriculture. The serious threat to the system is mining and the high salinity from the neutralised AMD from the western basin. The Tweelopiespruit flows into the Bloubankspruit and forms part of the Krugersdorp Game Reserve and the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.  The groundwater is heavily impacted by historic mine dewatering and historic discharges of acid mine drainage (AMD) into Tweelopiespruit and further downstream. Percy Stewart and Randfontein WWTWs discharge into this river system.

Radioactive pollution has been identified. There is also excessive sedimentation of the rivers, and aquatic weed infestation. 

IUA 3 – Crocodile/Rooodekopjes

Crocodile River from outflow Hartebeespoort Dam to inflow Roodekopjes Dam, Rosespruit, Ramogatla and Kareespruit

The water resources are in a degraded state owing to the changes in the flow regime as a result of the Hartebeestpoort Dam just upstream. Madibeng and Magalies Water are dependent on this reach for water supply for consumers.  The Rosespruit and Kareespruit are have water quality impacts (degradation due to mining impacts, informal settlements, irrigation return flows, industrial, chrome smelters).  There are impacts from the Brits area as well. Hyacinth growth observed in the Crocodile river below Brits. Encroachment and sedimentation is extensive.

Roodekopjes Dam

Dam is a source of domestic water supply (25% allocated to Magalies water – transfer to Vaalkop via canal). T Impacted by surrounding activities (irrigation, mining and industrial).

Hex/Waterkloofspruit/Vaalkop

Sterkstroom from outflow Buffelspoort Dam to inflow Roodekopjes Dam, Maretwane, Tshukutswe 

Area forms part of the Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve. Resources are impacted by mining activities, settlements along the river and WWTWs discharges. 

Olifantsnek Dam

Some water quality impacts are present in the dam.

Hex River outflow Olifantsnek Dam to inflow Bospoort Dam, Sandspruit

The water resources of the Hex River have been degraded due to the Olifanstsnek, Bospoort and Vaalkop Dams situated on the river. Rustenburg and extensive mining and agriculture in the middle reaches of the catchment further impacts on the water resources, both quality and quantity. Further impacts include urbanisation, irrigation return flows and discharges from WWTWs.

Bospoort Dam

Poor water quality currently present in the dam.

Hex River outflow Bospoort Dam to inflow Vaalkop Dam

The water resources of the Hex River have been degraded due to the Olifantsnek, Bospoort and Vaalkop Dams situated on the river, as well as upstream impacts. This reach includes localised subsistence use, game farms and domestic water supply. High conductivity observed. Impacts also due to settlements along river. 

Vaalkop Dam

Magalies Water has requested more releases from Bospoort and Olifantsnek Dam to improve water quality in Vaalkop dam.  Need to improve drinking water quality.  Water quality is impacted due to industrial pollution, return flows, mining impacts, nutriennts (eutrophication).

Elands/Vaaalkop

Upper reaches of Elands to Swartruggens Dam

Some sedimentation due to slate mining. Flow impacts present and poor sanitation is also impact on river system.

Elands river downstream Swartruggens Dam to Lindleyspoort Dam

This reach of the Elands River is located below dam. The reach is impacted upon by the WWTWs, urban activities, and diamond mining. Water quality deterioration is observed.

Lindleyspoort Dam

The upstream impacts include WWTWs.

Upper Koster to Koster Dam, Rooikloofspruit

Impacts include WWTWs, intensive cattle and poultry farming and unauthorised abstraction.

Elands River outflow Lindleyspoort Dam to inflow Vaalkop Dam, Brakkloofspruit, Roosspruit, Sandspruit Mankwe. Leragane, Molapongwamongana

The Mankwe tributary is protected in the Plianesburg National Park. These rivers are however surrounded by mining activities on Leragane (impacted). Tanneries are present in the town.  WWTWs discharges impact on water quality.

Klein Marico

Upper Klein Marico to inflow Klein Maricopoort dam, Rhenosterfonteinspruit, Malmanieloop, Kareespruit

Impacts on Kareespruit from WWTW, irrigation and over abstraction. Mining activities are present. Groundwater: Significantly impacted by bulk groundwater abstractions for municipal supplies; thus quantity and due to agricultural activities, quality may become an issue in future.

Klein Maricopoort Dam

Water quality impacts present.

Klein Marico downstream Klein Maricopoort Dam to Kromellenboog Dam, Wilgeboomspruit

Impacts include irrigation and over abstraction. Poor water quality due to irrigation return flows.

Kromellenboog Dam

Dam is impacted by upstream siltation, erosion, and nutrients.

Groot Marico

Groot Marico, Polkadraaispruit

There is mine prospecting activities in the area and some settlements forming part of the town of Marico, agricultural activities present. Water quality is impacted in the lower reaches of the Marico river.

Kaloog-se-Loop

Marico Eye, Kaaloog-se-Loop, Bokkraal-se-Loop, Ribbokfontein-se-Loop, Rietspruit (southern eye), Kuilsfontein,  Syferfontein and Bronkhorstfontein

Groundwater: Large abstractions for mining, agriculture and municipal supplies - current problems with high groundwater level recession rates in the Lichtenburg Area. There are some sedimentation impacts due to mining in the area.  Mine prospecting is also underway.

Malmaniesloop

Malmanie Eye, Dolomites

Groundwater: Huge impact on groundwater sustainability due to growing demand for municipal and

Bodibe Eye (Polfonteinspruit and Lotlhakane tributary catchment area)

High groundwater abstraction in the area resulting in a decrease in groundwater which has further resulted in spontaneous combustion underground and the peatland oxidised and been burning for several years now, resulting in a loss of the peatland, and poses a health and safety hazard for people and livestock.  Impacts include urban and settlement activities and cement mining.  Serious depletion of groundwater levels in this area (~25m) due to over-utilisation. Large eyes (springs) already impacted and dry.

Molopo Eye, Grootfontein Eye, Molopo headwaters to inflow Modimola dam

Impacts include a cement factory and urban development (Mahikeng).  Groundwater resources and wetlands are priority (unchannelled valleybottom wetlands and peatlands). The Molopo eye is a peatland and important for water supply and biodiversity support. Grootfontein aquifer not productive anymore, and all Mahikeng's water is sourced from Molopo's Eye, thus it is vital that the flow is maintained. Recreational activity in the area is also impacting on the eye.

Molopo River mainstem only from Modimola Dam to Disaneng Dam

Highly impact from urban settlement in Mahikeng which has resulted in a E present ecological status  category.  Serious problem with water pollution in Mahikeng and catchment of the Modimole Dam (WWTWs). Important wetland systems are present in this reach.

Setumo (Modimola) Dam

The WWTWs of Mahikeng is located just upstream of the dam which is impacting on the dam water quality. Poor water quality.

Dinaseng Dam

Discharge from Dinaseng for downstream trans-boundary use (into Botswana) is important.

Dinokana Eye/Ngotwane Dam

Upper  Nogotwane, Donokana Eye

Two important wetland systems occur namely the Dinokana eye and Ngotwana wetland (high biodiversity wetland in semi-arid climate with its source in Botswana) which both supply water for livelihood support for people, livestock and wildlife. Groundwater priority area. Groundwater related subsistence use. Water balance in this area is a concern as this is a sole-aquifer system for Dinokana and Zeerust. Water level of eye has dropped due to over abstraction.

Ngotwane Dam

Limited irrigation and supports downstream domestic water supply for villages.  Dam is impacted from WWTWs discharge from Botswana. Water quality is a threat.

Groot Marico/ Molatedi Dam

Groot Marico from outflow Marico Bosveld Dam to Molatedi Dam, all tributaries

The land area is degraded due to over grazing and development. Smaller dams are present on the tributaries supplying water to local communities (Pella Dam, Madikwe, Sehujane Dam). Water quality must be protected. 

Molatedi Dam

Releases are made in respect of meeting the international obligations with Botswana and for downstream

Groot Marico/ Seasonal tributaries

Groot Marico mainstem, outflow Molatedi Dam, Rasweu, Maselaje rivers

Impacts are primarily as a result of the Molatedi Dam upstream and the release pattern from the Tswasa Weir for irrigation purposes. Tributaries are mostly dry, recently there has been no releases made for Botswana. Riparian zone is heavily grazed. High sedimentation following rainfall events due to heavy erosion and overgrazing.

Bierspruit

 

Wilgespruit, Bofule, Kolobeng, Magoditshane, Motlhabe

Area is very important from an ecotourism point of view (includes the Pilansberg National Park). The water quality is degraded due to mining activities, town development and irrigation in the catchment.  Severe water quality impacts on the some of the tributaries, viz. Mothlabe and Wilgespruit. Water quality must be addressed.

Bierspruit outflow Bierspruit Dam to confluence with the Crocodile River, Brakspruit, Phufane, Sefatlhane, Lesobeng, lower reach Bofule

The water quality is degraded due to platinum mining, town development (sewage effluent), irrigation

Lower Crocodile

Crocodile River outflow Roodekopjes Dam to upstream Sand River confluence, Sleepfonteinspruit, Klipspruit tributaries

Return flows are a major impact on the system. 

Proximity of mines to the aquifers could lead to dewatering of the aquifer.

Sand River to confluence with the Crocodile River to Bierspruit confluence, Sondags, Vaalwaterspruit

Irrigation return flows are a major impact.

Lower Crocodile from Bierspruit confluence to the Botswana border (Limpopo River)

The Thabazimbi WWTW discharges impacts on the water quality of the Crocodile River. 

There are also mining activities in the area.

Tolwane/Kulwane/Moretele/Klipvoor

Apies River, Tshwane tributary

Water quality issues are prevalent, due to localised and upstream urban impacts.

Pienaars River from Boekenshout confluence to Apies River confluence

Magalies Water abstracts water for domestic supply on Boekenshoutspruit (klipdrift). The area includes sprawling peri-urban villages. Land use impacts include catlle in river habitat, and impacts from solid waste and sewage effluent. Important resource for the adjacent community.

Moretele (Pienaars) River from Plat River confluence to Klipvoor Dam, Kutswane to Klipvoor Dam

Water quality impacts are primarily a result of urbanization, specifically deterioration in water quality due to WWTWs discharges.

Currently too much water is released from the Rietgat WWTW.

 Pienaars River from Klipvoor Dam to Crocodile Riverconfluence, Tolwane tributary

 The rivers are impacted by urban development and irrigated agriculture. The Tolwane river is significantly impacted.  The rivers are impacted by high nutrient levels and eutrophication is evident. Extensive sand mining is also occurring in the area (largely unauthorised).

Upper Mokolo

Moloko River , Sand River and Klein Sand,  Brakspruit, Sondagsloop, Heuningspruit, Dwars, Jim se loop tributaries

The main impact on the water resource is irrigation return flows, WWTWs discharge from town and piggeries. The area is important as it plays a role as a corridor for fish (FEPA rivers). Important fish include CPRE, AURA and AMOS (flow dependent and water quality dependent fish species). Extensive wetland systems occur in the Sand River catchment which form important habitat for Blue Cranes. Important valley bottom and hillslope wetlands present forming part of the Waterberg system (unique combination of flora and faunal associations).

Mokolo River to inflow Mokolo Dam,  Taaibosspruit, Malmanies and Bulspruit tributaries

Water quality issues present due to septic tanks used by the game lodges.

Grootspruit and Sandspruit tributaries (Mokolo headwater catchment)

The main impact on the water resource is irrigation return flows and WWTWs discharge from town of Alma.  Extensive wetland systems occur in the area coupled with the area being a fish support area.  Important habitat for Blue Cranes (which have been identified within the Sand River catchment).

Sandloop

Catchment area includes the Medupi and Matimba power stations, Grootegeluk coal mine, Maropong and Lephalale towns. Impacts on this system include coal mining, the power stations, coal bed methane extraction, impacts from the towns as well as agriculture. Water quality impacts are a concern, with deterioration observed.  Serious impacts of local groundwater resources due to dewatering and future acid mine drainage discharges.

Mokolo mainstem - Mokolo from below EWR3 to the Tamboti confluence

Major sand mining is occurring within the Mokolo mainstem catchment. This has resulted in siltation and loosening of substrate.

Mokolo mainstem - from Tamboti confluence to Limpopo

Abstraction activities is high in this mainstem with sand mining being a considerable issue in the Lepahlale area.

Matlabas

Matlabas River

This area has been earmarked for future coal mining developments. FEPA wetlands are present. Migratory corridor to the Limpopo for the bird species. There is the Matlabas peatland/mire and valleybottom wetlands present.

Catchment area including Steenbokpan

The Steenbokpan area has been earmarked for future coal mining in this area.

 

[1] The catchment areas lie predominately within the North West Province and include the northern part of Gauteng as well as the south-western portion of the Limpopo Province. Towards the north west the area borders on Botswana. The main river systems within the catchment (Crocodile, Marico, Mokolo and Matlabas rivers) flow northwards to join the Limpopo River. Major tributary systems include the Pienaars, Apies, Moretele, Hennops, Jukskei, Magalies, Elands, Klein Marico, Molopo, and Ngotwane rivers.

The Pilanesburg Nature Reserve, the Cradle of Humankind Heritage Site, the Marakele Nature Reserve, the Bafokeng Tribal area, the dolomitic wetland or eye systems and large dams such as the Hartbeespoort, Vaalkop, Roodekopjes, Klipvoor, Roodeplaat, Molatedi and Mokolo Dams are all very important features in the catchment area. The Pilanesburg Nature Reserve, the Cradle of Humankind Heritage Site and Hartbeespoort Dam are key tourist attractions in South Africa.

[2] A D-Category indicates a largely modified river system and an E category indicates a seriously modified resource.

[3] Reference:  Determination of Resource Quality Objectives in the Mokolo, Matlabas, Crocodile (West) And Marico Catchments in the Limpopo North West Water Management Area (WMA 01) Resource Quality Objectives And Numerical Limits Report Report No.: RDM/WMA01/00/CON/RQO/0516. 2016.

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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 ...