Environmental watchdog the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE) has proposed the establishment of a pilot project to address the waste and pollution legacy of mining in the Witwatersrand basin, with a clear linkage between the potential for revenue generation through materials reclamation and comprehensively addressing the entire rehabilitation challenge, with the participation of all stakeholders.
This idea is raised in FSE CEO Mariette Liefferink’s booklet, titled Rehabilitation of mine contaminated eco-systems: A contribution to a just transition to a low carbon economy to combat unemployment and climate change, which was launched in Johannesburg last month.
She says that the communities that will benefit the most from the rehabilitation project will be the residents of informal settlements in close proximity to the Tweelopiespruit wetlands, such as those located in Randfontein, the Mogale City local municipality and Westonaria, all of which are densely populated and have high rates of unemployment.
Liefferink contends that the project will create jobs for 100 people, who will be responsible for the rehabilitation of Tweelopiespruit, the receptor dams and wetlands over a period of a year.
“The possibility exists to even expand this project to other mine-contaminated wetlands and rivers in the West Rand’s goldfields, which could create jobs for an additional 300 persons over a year,” she states.
“While such work is in theory the responsibility of the mining companies involved, there has been a failure in duties of care and the urgently needed interventions require concerted action by the State, which is also necessary to realise the potential benefits for impacted communities,” she states.
Liefferink notes that the impacts of global warming include changes in rainfall and in ambient temperature that will have an overall negative impact on subsistence activities and commercial agriculture, as well as on biodiversity and the health of river systems.
Liefferink asserts that the extractive sector can – if responsibly managed – mitigate the impacts it has on natural systems and resources and contribute to economic growth and development by developing and implementing programmes for the remediation of contaminated wetlands, ecosystems, receptor dams and rivers.
She says that the potential to recover metals during rehabilitation and use the revenues generated to contribute to the costs of clean-up is recognised by the mining industry.
Liefferink points out that, after reclamation of metals, the residue can be disposed of in an operational residue dam to significantly reduce any further impacts.
“Government exercising its responsibilities for addressing mining legacy wastes and continuing acid mine drainage, while holding the private sector accountable, offers an important opportunity for participatory development that would alleviate poverty and reduce vulnerability not only in the short term, but into the future,” Liefferink concludes