The Lettert may be opened as a PDF document.
DESIRED STATE OF THE ENVIRONMENT
The following comments are submitted on behalf of the Federation for Sustainable Environment (FSE) The FSE is a federation of community based civil society organisations committed to the realisation of the constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to health or well-being, and to having the environment sustainably managed and protected for future generations. Their mission is specifically focussed on addressing the adverse impacts of mining and industrial activities on the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable and disadvantaged communities who live and work near South Africa’s mines and industries.
The FSE’s comments, in line with its mission, are confined to the mining industry and in particular the platinum group metal producing mines in the Bonjanala Platinum District Municipality and mining applications and authorisation within the Marico River Catchment and its impacts upon the environment and water resources. Our concerns, comments and recommendations are motivated by recent environmental authorisations of mining applications within areas of highest biodiversity importance and the profound often irreversible impacts on eco-systems and sustainable future land use with associated resources such as water.
 A number of applications for mining and prospecting has recently been authorised with the Marico River Catchment. The Groot Marico River is a key water resource, which is classified in the Ecological category A/B – largely natural. The upper reaches of the Groot Marico River are a river FEPA due to its clean, free flowing nature where the vulnerable Marico barb is found. The Quartenary Catchments A31A and A31B fall within a flagship NFEPA and the Catchment encompasses an Aquatic CBA 1 and terrestrial CBA. Certain areas within the catchment have already been declared protected areas and that the entire area is currently before UNESCO for consideration as a Biosphere Reserve. The river originates from the dolomitic eye of the Marico River (Kaalloog). The Groot Marico River forms the south-western headwaters of the Limpopo. The Catchment is the pumphouse of the Limpopo river. The Groot Marico River provides water to hundreds of thousands of downstream water users and the Molatedi Dam, which supplies North West’s premier Big 5 Madikwe Game Reserve. The water is also pumped from the Tswasa Weir at the Dam to Gaberone in terms of the international Tswasa Agreement.
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SATURDAY STAR article written by Sheree Bega - "Mintails mining site reduced to rubble" “Look, there’s nothing left,” said the heavily armed security guard as he pointed to what remained of Mintails’ gold treatment plants, offices and adjacent infrastructure: rubble. Read the rest of the article here. Watch the SABC2 Mintails coverage here. Notice of motion and affidavit issued by the FSE attached for referral.
SATURDAY STAR NEWS / 31 AUGUST 2019, 4:55PM / SHEREE BEGA Mariette Liefferink, chief executive of the Federation for a Sustaiable Environment, has described Mintails Group’s Krugersdorp and Randfontein mining activities as one of South Africa’s ‘worst environmental catastrophes’. Picture: Boxer Ngwenya Johannesburg - As a heavy wind blows over the West Rand, clouds of dust swirl from clusters of barren mine dumps towering over both sides of Main Reef Road, turning the skyline a ghostly white. It’s a bleak scene that environmental justice activist Mariette Liefferink knows all too well. “This is all Mintails’ and just look at how it’s been left,” says the chief executive of the non-profit Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE), gesturing to the unrehabilitated dumps. She drives under a bridge, teetering over the busy road. The structure is collapsing from ongoing spillages during Mintails' operations, she says. But after a decade of government inaction against the Mintails Group, the FSE has now turned to the courts to deal with what Liefferink describes as one of South Africa’s “worst environmental catastrophes”, left behind by the liquidated gold mining and tailings processing company that was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. The FSE, represented by the Legal Resources Centre, has filed a landmark lawsuit against the Mintails Group, its liquidators, the ministers of Mineral Resources, Water and Sanitation, Trade and Industry, and Environmental Affairs as well as Mogale City local municipality in the North Gauteng High Court. In total, 34 respondents are cited in the litigation which seeks criminal charges against the firm's directors. In her founding affidavit, Liefferink warns how the mining activities of the “chronically poorly managed” firm spanning Krugersdorp and Randfontein will have “catastrophic consequences” for taxpayers, future generations, the natural environment and human health". Mintails applied for business rescue in October 2015, but was liquidated in September last year. It has an unfunded environmental liability of R485million, but only around R25m financial provision in its environmental rehabilitation funds. This will now be “externalised to the state, neighbouring mines, a mute environment, financially beleaguered local municipalities and communities characterised by widespread poverty and future generations”, reads her founding affidavit. “The overall tab will be picked up by overburdened taxpayers who have little say in the ongoing corporate malevolence of the group.” Liefferink details the firm’s “wholesale neglect” of its environmental responsibilities. This includes the “widespread abandoning of overseeing adequate and sufficient monitoring, mitigation, preservation, oversight, planning, and concurrent rehabilitation as part of their overall mining activities”. It reclaimed only the profitable sections of the dumps, failing to rehabilitate any footprints. “The Mintails Group have failed to complete the mining, removed the underground pillars (containing residual gold), failed to backfill and rehabilitate open pits and failed to secure the sites. “Several polluted highly contaminated dams and open pits are easily accessible to school children, churchgoers and community members. These dams are toxic and potentially radioactive. “I've witnessed churchgoers being baptised in these toxic swell pools and children swimming in them on hot summer days. Certain people have died - the mining area is open and an exceptionally dangerous area to be in.” There is no signage, walling, fencing or lighting on the mined-out land and there has been "sporadic” dust control. Polluted water from unrehabilated footprints and dumps has not been captured in lined pollution control dams. “The (firm’s) footprint has had a profound impact on surrounding wetlands as well as the catchment area. There have been ongoing spillages of acid mine drainage water and slurry, which has allowed acid mine water to seep from cracks in the pollution control dams into rivers and surrounding wetlands. "There has been inadequate maintenance of the pipes and pollution control dams by the Mintails Group,” the affidavit reads. Wetlands have become “potentially radioactive toxic dump lands” and the applicable mining area is now “ecologically dead”. In 2009, the former Department of Water Affairs and the National Nuclear Regulator flagged Mintails for allowing acutely toxic water and slimes to migrate to the wetlands downstream of Lancaster Dam, part of the Wonderfonteinspruit catchment, the richest gold mining area in the world. “The Wonderfonteinspruit is used for irrigation, watering of cattle, baptisms, recreational use, domestic use and at times for drinking purposes. It flows downstream into the Boskop Dam, supplying water to 400 000 people in Potchefstroom," the affidavit reads. "That Lancaster Dam has been allowed to deteriorate in the manner it has by the Mintails operation presents a direct risk to life and limb.” But the relevant state departments failed to enforce legally binding conditions for the firm’s mining and environmental reports. The Department of Mineral Resources should never have afforded the firm the right to operate without the necessary financial provisions. “The Mintails Group has over the years argued it will ‘top up’ the financial provisions during the life of mine. It was on this basis that the Mintails Group were granted certain mining rights The financial provision has not materialised at all and if any, the areas has been wholly unrehabilitated.” The FSE wants the court to order the various ministers to remediate and rehabilitate the environment by enforcing current directives and compliance notices against the directors and to “recover” funds from them to clean up degraded sites. “Some subsidiaries have ‘shifted’ assets and liabilities between subsidiaries. This includes shifting a mining right (asset) to one subsidiary, whereas the environmental liability associated with the activities of the mining right has been shifted to another subsidiary with the entity holding the liability falling under business rescue and liquidation,” the affidavit states. “It needs to be investigated whether the dispositions in the Mintails Group, specific to shifting assets and liabilities and ‘moving’ an environmental liability in the region of hundreds of millions of rands, was done for value and whether this was done fraudulently, alternatively recklessly and further alternatively with an intent to defraud creditors." Liefferink details how the FSE has “literally begged” government departments to take action, “tirelessly submitting report after report” and conducting “well over 1 000” physical site inspections, to no avail. “Despite issuing numerous pre-directives and directives and despite the FSE laying criminal charges (in 2014 against Mintails for non-compliance) the group and its board of directors in particular, have been allowed to carry on with business as usual. “Without the relief sought, none of the roleplayers will even attempt to remediate and/or rehabilitate the environment. The sequence of events has been to to pass the buck, blame other departments and obfuscate.” The state must “immediately do all things necessary, to cordon off affected mining areas and (ensure) safety mechanisms be adopted to safeguard the general public”. “Indeed,” warns Liefferink, “people have already died and there exists an ongoing risk of poor public health, environmental catastrophe and even death regarding the areas and activities referred to, to the broader public.” The Ministers of Minerals and Energy, Human Settlement, Water and Sanitation and the latter department's deputy director general have indicated their intention to oppose the matter. Liefferink says the FSE's application is vital to address the governance of a company, “when the main benefactors of mining activities sit overseas and whereas the devastating consequences of their corporate greed is left to the poorest of the poor and overburdened taxpayers where the state has to intervene to prevent further degradation. “The directors of Mintails need to be interrogated for their involvement in one of the country’s worst environmental catastrophes and to account to the public for their corporate decisions.”
Photographs of FSE's tour of the West rand gold field on the 31st of August 2019 with Law Faculty students (LLB & LLM) of the University of Pretoria and Senior Lecturer Melanie Murcott. All photographs taken by Melanie Murcott.
Watch the video of SABC News' coverage on the Mintails liquidation and subsequent looting of the mines here.
FSE's COMMENTS ON: CLOSURE OF PROSPECTING RIGHTS_DOORNSPRUIT 84 JQ / ROODEKRAALSPRUIT 113 JQ AND KLIPGATKOP 115 JQ
Comments attached for download.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION DOCUMENT FOR COAL, PSEUDOCOAL & TORBORNITE MINING RIGHT APPLICATION, INTEGRATED WATER USE LICENSE APPLICATION AND ENVIRONMENTAL AUTHORISATION
Background information document for coal, pseudocoal & torbornite mining right application, integrated water use license application and environmental authorisation, all portions (excluding portion 46, 74,& 90) of the farm Tenbosch 162 JU, all portions (excluding portion 01) of the farm Vyeboom 414 JU, all portions of the farm Turfbult 593 JU and all portions of the farm Tecklenburg's Ranch 548 JU, in the Magisterial district of Barberton, Mpumalanga Province. Document attached for download.
DRAFT SCOPING REPORT FOR LISTED ACTIVITIES ASSOCIATED WITH THE RECLAMATION AND REPROCESSING OF THE SOWETO CLUSTER DUMPS IN JOHANNESBURG, GAUTENG PROVINCE
The Draft Scoping Report is attached for download.
ENVIRONMENTAL AUTHORISATION PROCESS FOR THE MIDDELVLEI MINE, RANDFONTEIN, GAUTENG MIDDELVLEI MINERALS (PTY) LTD
Attached is a document compiled by the FSE for the Environmental authorisation process for the Middlevlei mine, Randfontein.
The following related articles are attached: Environmental Compliance: Are government and industry doing enough? Mynhuis sal Potch se drinkwater vernietig Hair-raising uranium levels found
Jozi Gold - a story of wealth, greed and poisonous mountains. Johannesburg has produced a third of all gold mined in history. Now the gold is running out, the mines are falling apart and toxic waste turns water into poison. Former Jehovah’s Witness Mariette Liefferink is on a mission to force the mine bosses to clean up. Directors Fredrik Gertten and Sylvia Vollenhoven, based on an original story by Adam Welz. Official trailer with English titles. View here.
Publication of the International Agency on Research on Cancer's results of its U measurement study within the Witwatersrand gold fields
The Federation for a Sustainable Environment with its close links to the communities, has aided the IARC to identify barber shops in each ward serving local customers of both sexes (except in Azaadville, where the chosen barber turned out to serve only men) and to collect 1600 samples of human hair. The IARC has launched the results on its website. View them here. The full report is attached for download.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE AVAILABLE HERE. Documentary Jozi Gold had its world premiere at the 21st Encounters South African International Documentary Festival this week, and some of what it revealed about mining pollution is truly shocking. Grethe Kemp reviews the film. Jozi Gold Directors: Sylvia Vollenhoven, Fredrik Gertten 4 stars Johannesburg is the most uranium contaminated city on Earth. These and other shocking truths are revealed in new 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. By focusing on the dogged efforts of environmental activist Mariette Liefferink, we are shown how Johannesburg’s mines have contaminated virtually everything in our 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. But all of us – yes, every single Joburger – is affected by the mining fall-out in some way. The problem is that we don’t even fully know what it’s doing to us. Liefferink herself 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. Read more: Mariette has 'em shell-shocked 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. Jozi Gold is a superbly shot documentary that we should all see. And Mariette Liefferink is someone who we should all know about, and support. ORIGINAL ARTICLE AVAILABLE HERE.
WATCH: illegal miners hit Mintails mine on West Rand here. PODCAST: Abandoned mines in South Africa are causing a safety and health risk here.
The Appeal Authority in terms of Section 43(6) of the NEMA has decided to set aside the decision of the DMR to grant an Environmental Authorisation to the Applicant for the prospecting of coal on farm Golden Valley within the magisterial district of Magaliesburg. The FSE and the Magaliesburg Community Forum lodged appeals against the Environmental Authorisation by the DMR.
MINING WEEKLY Unfolding environmental disaster 4TH JUNE 2019 BY: AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY A security company responsible for safeguarding a gold treatment plant belonging to Mintails on the West Rand withdrew last week, citing “financial constraints”. The evacuation, which follows the liquidation of the embattled mining company and its subsidiaries, has left the door wide open to zama-zamas and looters, who are plundering the facility and driving their stash off the premises by the bakkie load. “This is wholesale looting and scavenging of anything of value from copper cables to sheets of metal,” warned environmental activist Mariette Liefferink. “The site is under the control of heavily armed [illegal] miners who control all access to the plant.” Watching the activity from a distance, the men and women carrying tools and blowtorches clearly know what they are doing, creating the impression that this is organised crime. This past weekend climbers, equipped with ropes, scaled the infrastructure of the upper plant. “Steel construction was falling like nobody’s business,” said an eyewitness. “The liquidators appear to have lost all interest in securing these assets.” GUNFIGHTS The situation has descended into anarchy. The looters are not shy to shoot and in the past week, there have been several gunfights when looters felt security or outsiders were encroaching on “their” site. Even the police are scared to intervene. According to witnesses, the authorities have done nothing given the dangers and the large numbers of looters at the facility. “The Hawks have been fearful to get involved with the result that this is now a free-for-all. The looting continues with no enforcement whatsoever,” said Liefferink. She said the most worrying aspect of the looting was the cutting and stealing of a neighbouring electrical cable to Shaft 9 – this cable powers the pump station that removes acid mine water out of the shaft and into a nearby acid mine drainage treatment plant. Millions of litres of water are pumped daily to prevent the acid mine water reaching the surface and decanting into the surrounding Cradle of Humankind. Sputnik Ratau, the spokesperson for the Department of Water and Sanitation, confirmed that the cable was sabotaged and stolen on 24 May. “Power to the Western Basin acid mine drainage (AMD) pump station, on Mintails’s property, and the AMD Treatment Plant is thus compromised and the facility is currently not operational,” said Ratau. “If the pumping stops for a prolonged period, like a month, we run the risk of a decant of toxic and radioactive acid mine water into the surrounding Cradle of Humankind.” The underlying rock structure in the Cradle is porous dolomite and the acid mine water could dissolve the rock, destroying valuable fossils in this Unesco World Heritage site, which is internationally recognised for its hominid finds. This would have serious implications for tourism in the area and would inevitably mean job losses. “Especially for Bolt’s Farm and the Sterkfontein Caves that contain our most precious fossils and we will see an acceleration in the number of sinkholes forming as a result,” said Liefferink. SERIOUS RISK Many of the residents along the water system would be affected by a decant – their water would be contaminated and their health put at serious risk because they do not have access to municipal water. “The people there are dependent on the water systems for their drinking water, for their animals and for irrigation,” says Liefferink. The pump station was established by the Department of Water and Sanitation in response to a potential decant. According to Liefferink, in 2002 the western basin in the area where the mine is situated flooded, leaving acid mine water to flow out with devastating consequences. It resulted in the Tweelopies Spruit and Wonderfontein Spruit becoming radioactive hotspots and acutely toxic, putting lives downstream at risk. “The Department of Water and Sanitation declared it an emergency. They refurbished the treatment plant which pumps and processes around 40-million litres of acid mind water a day,” said Liefferink. Her other worry is that the gold treatment plant is the only real asset left and this wholesale looting does not augur well for the recovery of the R460-million environmental liability that Mintails left on the West Rand. This amount was cited in the Parliamentary portfolio committee report by the Department of Minerals and Energy last year. But the Department of Water and Sanitation said there was no immediate risk of raw AMD decanting. “The water level in the void is around 9-metres below the surface and this is considered ample buffer capacity for now,” said Ratau. He added that the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA), a State-owned entity charged with financing and implementing bulk raw water infrastructure projects, is working closely with Sibanye-Stillwater and Eskom to restore the cable. This could be achieved by as early as Tuesday (June 4). Alternative interventions are also being costed so as to achieve a permanent remedy and for armed security personnel to be deployed at the pump station to deter future attempts of cabletheft or other damage to the pump station.
The South African Health News Service Mintails mining company and its subsidiaries have left the door open to zama-zamas and looters at their abandoned mine in the West Rand. Picture: Health-e News Unfolding environmental disaster Bernadette Maguire June 4, 2019 Features Zama zamas are looting an abandoned mine near Krugersdorp. In the process, they have cut the electric cable to the acid mine drainage which poses the environment and the health hazards. A security company responsible for safeguarding a gold treatment plant belonging to Mintails on the West Rand withdrew last week, citing “financial constraints”. The evacuation, which follows the liquidation of the embattled mining company and its subsidiaries, has left the door wide open to zama-zamas and looters, who are plundering the facility and driving their stash off the premises by the bakkie load. “This is wholesale looting and scavenging of anything of value from copper cables to sheets of metal,” warned environmental activist Mariette Liefferink. “The site is under the control of heavily armed [illegal] miners who control all access to the plant.” Watching the activity from a distance, the men and women carrying tools and blowtorches clearly know what they are doing, creating the impression that this is organised crime. This past weekend climbers, equipped with ropes, scaled the infrastructure of the upper plant. Zama zamas are stripping an old mine of anything from copper cables to sheets of metal. Photo: Health-e News. “Steel construction was falling like nobody’s business,” said an eyewitness. “The liquidators appear to have lost all interest in securing these assets.” Gunfights The situation has descended into anarchy. The looters are not shy to shoot and in the past week, there have been several gunfights when looters felt security or outsiders were encroaching on “their” site. Even the police are scared to intervene. According to witnesses, the authorities have done nothing given the dangers and the large numbers of looters at the facility. “The Hawks have been fearful to get involved with the result that this is now a free-for-all. The looting continues with no enforcement whatsoever,” said Liefferink. She said the most worrying aspect of the looting was the cutting and stealing of a neighbouring electrical cable to Shaft 9 – this cable powers the pump station that removes acid mine water out of the shaft and into a nearby acid mine drainage treatment plant. Millions of litres of water are pumped daily to prevent the acid mine water reaching the surface and decanting into the surrounding Cradle of Humankind. If the acid mine drainage at Mintails’s mine decants the impact on environment and health could be devastating. Photo: Health-e News Sputnik Ratau, the spokesperson for the Department of Water and Sanitation, confirmed that the cable was sabotaged and stolen on 24 May. “Power to the Western Basin AMD pump station, on Mintails’s property, and the AMD (Acid Mine Drainage) Treatment Plant is thus compromised and the facility is currently not operational,” said Ratau. “If the pumping stops for a prolonged period, like a month, we run the risk of a decant of toxic and radioactive acid mine water into the surrounding Cradle of Humankind.” The underlying rock structure in the Cradle is porous dolomite and the acid mine water could dissolve the rock, destroying valuable fossils in this UNESCO World Heritage site, which is internationally recognised for its hominid finds. This would have serious implications for tourism in the area and would inevitably mean job losses. “Especially for Bolt’s Farm and the Sterkfontein Caves that contain our most precious fossils and we will see an acceleration in the number of sinkholes forming as a result,” said Liefferink. Serious risk Many of the residents along the water system would be affected by a decant – their water would be contaminated and their health put at serious risk because they do not have access to municipal water. “The people there are dependent on the water systems for their drinking water, for their animals and for irrigation,” says Liefferink. The pump station was established by the Department of Water and Sanitation in response to a potential decant. According to Liefferink, in 2002 the western basin in the area where the mine is situated flooded, leaving acid mine water to flow out with devastating consequences. It resulted in the Tweelopies Spruit and Wonderfontein Spruit becoming radioactive hotspots and acutely toxic, putting lives downstream at risk. Potential water contamination. Photo: Health-e News “The Department of Water and Sanitation declared it an emergency. They refurbished the treatment plant which pumps and processes around 40-million litres of acid mind water a day,” said Liefferink. Her other worry is that the gold treatment plant is the only real asset left and this wholesale looting does not augur well for the recovery of the R460-million environmental liability that Mintails left on the West Rand. This amount was cited in the Parliamentary portfolio committee report by the Department of Minerals and Energy last year. But the Department of Water and Sanitation said there was no immediate risk of raw AMD decanting. “The water level in the void is around 9-metres below the surface and this is considered ample buffer capacity for now,” said Ratau. He added that the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA), a state-owned entity charged with financing and implementing bulk raw water infrastructure projects, is working closely with Sibanye Stillwater and Eskom to restore the cable. This could be achieved by as early as Tuesday (4 June). Alternative interventions are also being costed so as to achieve a permanent remedy and for armed security personnel to be deployed at the pump station to deter future attempts of cable theft or other damage to the pump station. Trail of destruction Mintails has left a veritable trail of destruction: the area is now characterised by deep, scarring opencast pits, massive unrehabilitated dumps and large bodies of toxic acid mine water. Very little was ever done to remediate the environment after they stripped the gold from the earth and recovered gold from the dumps. Massive cement pipes containing toxic mine tailings residue have been dug up and lie littered for kilometres. These pose a serious risk to the health of communities living around these mines. According to a 2013 study by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), exposure to acid mine water has serious health consequences, including an elevated risk of cancer and heavy metal poisoning. The CSIR concluded that an epidemiological study is needed but this has not yet been commissioned. Liefferink is concerned the authorities are not acting with the necessary urgency and there appears to be no accountability from Mintails, whose main shareholders are based in the United Kingdom. “There seems to be a total paralysis on the part of the competent organs of state, such as the Department of Water and Sanitation, the National Nuclear Regulator, the departments of Mineral Resources and Environmental Affairs. I conducted site visits last week with them but nothing has happened,” she said. Liefferink also questioned whether President Cyril Ramphosa’s big focus on economic development would be possible with a poor environmental base; water, after all, is a critical economic enabler. “Without water, there can be no economic growth. It’s important to take cognisance of the nexus between environmental management and economic growth,” she said. – Health-e News
Saturday Star article attached.
Financial Mail Cover Article: May 30 – June 5 2019, attached for download.
Invitation to stakeholder workshop on the proposed amendments to the Financial Provisioning Regulations, 2015
Big increase in mine water pollution Mark Olalde | Andiswa Matikinca |Mail & Guardian | 17 May 2019 00:00 Unchecked: Mining companies accused of failing to comply with environmental regulations say that the water department is disorganised and understaffed. (Madelene Cronjé) New statistics released in Parliament show that 118 mines around South Africa are polluting rivers, inadequately testing for contamination or otherwise dirtying South Africa’s waterways. The figures, released by the minister of water and sanitation, Gugile Nkwinti, also show that 115 mines are known to be operating without proper water permits. This represents a significant increase from 2014, when the South African Human Rights Commission found 39 mines to be noncompliant. Violators are spread across every province and include major corporations such as AngloGold Ashanti, De Beers, Glencore and Anglo American Platinum. In response to parliamentary questions posed by Freedom Front Plus MP Anton Alberts, the minister released the data, compiled by the department, in April. It showed that during the past financial year, more than 15% of the 712 mines licensed to use or to have an effect on water sources had failed to comply with the water-use licences that stipulate the conditions of that usage. Asked what steps would be taken to address the deficiencies, Nkwinti responded: “It is not clear why transgressors resort to operation of mines without the requisite authorisation; however, the department continues to intensify activities to protect the water resources, as mandated by the National Water Act.” Alberts told Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism that he had referred the list of transgressions, which covers the years 2015 to 2018, to the department’s Blue Scorpions regulatory unit. This is the group tasked with finding people who break water law, and fining them. “Even though mines are a part of our economy, we need to find a balance between just getting the profits out of the ground and leaving nature spoiled and people who live there becoming sick,” said Alberts. The data covers a wide range of permit violations: polluted water discharged directly into the environment, waste piles contaminating groundwater, unlined wastewater retention ponds, oil spills, insufficient monitoring, excessive dewatering of the underground void and poor record-keeping. As climate change continues to worsen South Africa’s water security, the mining industry’s number of water-related infractions is rising. In 2017-2018, the department found 10 more mines significantly out of compliance with their water-use permits than the year before, and 38 more than in 2015-2016. Much of the mining negatively affecting water is in the coalfields of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, which ranked first and second, respectively, in the number of mines out of compliance with their water-use licences. Saul Roux, a science and policy specialist at the nonprofit legal group Centre for Environmental Rights, said acid mine drainage poses mining’s most significant threat to clean water resources. Coal mining on the Highveld overlaps with large portions of the country’s 22 designated strategic water-source areas, which provide 60% of all South Africans with water, he said. “Our scarce water resources are affected throughout the coal life cycle, including direct effects on water quality during coal mining, effects of air pollutants on water resources and coal ash contamination of groundwater,” Roux said. But companies’ responses to questions about the data highlighted the disorganisation in the government bureaucracy meant to police them. In recent years, the department has had only 35 compliance and enforcement officials to cover the entire country. This is according to a report by the South African Water Caucus, a group of nongovernmental organisations and trade unions set up to study water use. The data listed elevated levels of pollutants at Glencore’s Mpumalanga mines, for example, but company spokesperson Lerato Setsiba said the department had not informed the company of the infraction. “Glencore has an extensive water-monitoring network on all sites where water qualities are measured every month and investigations are conducted on any exceedance of water quality,” Setsiba said in a statement. Other major mining companies also defended their infractions. Anglo American Platinum’s spokesperson, Jana Marais, responded to the findings that several of its mines, including the Twickenham Platinum Mine in Mpumalanga, discharged polluted water. She said the company was spending millions of rand on upgrading water infrastructure at the mine and that an external audit had found higher compliance with water permits than the department found. Chris Nthite, AngloGold’s representative, said the company was aware of the listed violations — which included waste spillages, stormwater management issues and unauthorised water use — and had addressed them. “[AngloGold] has offered measures to remedy any problem, or has not been contacted further.” The department’s spokesperson, Sputnik Ratau, did not respond to requests for comment on why the department allowed mining companies to continue operating with outstanding infractions. Neither did the department of mineral resources. Its spokesperson, Ayanda Shezi, instead referred questions about potential inter-agency co-operation in the policing of mining companies back to the water department. With water pollution continuing largely unchecked, environmental activists have taken to the courts to protect water resources in both the coalfields and gold-mining basins. Mariette Liefferink, chief executive of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, said her group is in the process of filing litigation against the ministers of water and sanitation and of mineral resources, among other parties, for their role in the environmental catastrophe unfolding at the Mintails SA gold mines on the West Rand. A parliamentary inquiry revealed late last year that the government allowed mining to continue at Mintails after mine waste spilt into waterways and children had drowned in open mining pits. This inquiry also revealed that the company’s liabilities ran to R460-million — that is the amount of money the company would require to repair all the damage to the environment. In the 2015-2016 period, Mintails complied with less than a quarter of its water-use licence requirements, according to the data released in Parliament. With the company liquidated, mining at the operations near Krugersdorp have largely halted and any proceeds are flowing back to investors in London. “There is a significant lack of political will, which means polluters can continue with impunity to ignore directives,” Liefferink said. — oxpeckers.org This report was sponsored by #MineAlert and the Open Society Foundation for South Africa - DOCUMENTS SUPPORTING THIS ARTICLE HAVE BEEN ATTACHED.
The FSE's Keynote Address at the Australian Centre of Geomechanics’ 22nd International Conference on Paste and Tailings
The FSE recently presented a keynote address at the Australian Centre of Geomechanics’ 22nd International Conference on Paste and Tailings. Please find attached hereto the programme and the FSE’s sample paper.
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