Radioactive spillages condemn farmland

Written by  Sunday, 28 August 2011 10:55
Rate this item
(0 votes)

In the wasteland that is Johan Kondos’s farm, a lush green field brings hope.

“This is what a farm is supposed to look like,” he says, gesturing proudly to his prized lucerne crop, seemingly untainted by the surrounding mining pollution.

This lone field, and a few beloved cattle, is all Kondos has left of his farm in Hartbeesfontein in the North West.

Like many of his neighbours, he blames surrounding mining operations for contaminating his farm, situated about 5km from the Vaal River.

“Some of the pollution is historic but some of it is so recent, it’s still wet,” he explains.

“I’ve had calves born with two heads on my farm. At one time I was having 70 percent abortions and very high mortality with my animals. They drank from the Koekemoerspruit and ate the lucerne I produced.

“The radiation goes into the ground, you get values in your corn and lucerne. If I had to sell that to my suppliers, I’d be out of business. I had 1 000 head of cattle on this farm, but I had to take them to another farm.”

Kondos, a metallurgist, worries about the impact of ongoing mining spillages on the Koekemoerspruit, already contaminated with elevated levels of radioactive uranium and sulphates from slimes dams, and which flows directly into the Vaal, nearby.

“Where the Koekemoerspruit flows into the Vaal is about 1km from the Midvaal waterworks, which supplies the whole of the Kosh area (Klerksdorp, Orkney, Stilfontein, Hartbeesfontein) with drinking water. That means the whole of the Kosh area is drinking polluted water.”

He shows a wetland, its grass coated a sulphuric white from recent spillages. “The levels of uranium are 10 times higher than they should be in this wetland alone, which is part of the Koekemoerspruit. You’re not even talking about the acidity, cyanide and arsenic in the water. You’re just talking about the nuclear pollution.”

He blames the recent toxic and radioactive spillages on Mine Waste Solutions, a subsidiary of Canadian First Uranium, which is reprocessing mining waste from 15 old slimes dams – some of which are located on his expansive farm – in the Klerksdorp area.

As part of this, the company is also constructing a controversial central tailings storage facility, or superdump, about 2km from the Vaal River, touting it as a model rehabilitation plan, where the mining waste from the 15 tailings dams is piped. Superdumps are huge dams that store toxic waste form the smaller, historical dumps that are reprocessed for gold and uranium.

In July, the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) shut down Mine Waste Solutions’ operations after its inspection revealed spillages and leakages of tailings materials along the company’s extensive pipeline and on the properties of farmers like Kondos.

But a week later, Mine Waste Solutions was back on line, stating it said it had been given conditional approval to restart operations provided it follow an “enhanced pipeline maintenance programme” and submit monthly reports.

But farmers say the spillages continue. “I can almost give you the date when the next spill will happen,” remarks Flip Jooste, a farmer. “Every day I’m on this road checking where the new spillages are because they (Mine Waste Solutions) don’t care.”

As part of a servitude agreement, Jooste has allowed the company to operate a dam on his farm, and run its massive pipelines across it.

But following spillages since March, his water tests have revealed high levels of uranium and sulphates.

“I sold all my cattle because there is no use putting them back in the field after all this pollution and spillages,” he says, disconsolately.

“There are 400 people who live on my land, like pensioners and people who used to work on the mines, who are also being exposed to this pollution.”

The Blue Scorpions, the enforcement arm of the national Department of Water Affairs, this week conducted a “closed audit” on Mine Waste Solution’s operations in the area.

The head of the unit, Nigel Adams, told the Saturday Star it had received numerous complaints about pollution and “it’s very worrying”.

“We’re taking water samples in the manner of prosecuting samples. That’s not to say we’re going to lay criminal charges, but we need to follow certain procedures.

“Part of my team are specialists in the engineering field who are looking at the pumps and pipeline and the design. Part of the audit is to determine whether the cause (of pollution) is pure negligence, an act of God, or improper planning.”

Mariette Liefferink, of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, which is representing landowners and farmers in the area, predicts the toxic spills will continue because the company’s pipelines are structurally defective and were “erected in haste”.

Her federation has appealed the NNR’s decision to suspend the directive. “We have not been given reasons why they did this. You cannot just greenwash after there has been a public outcry.”

Liefferink believes the superdump will cause more pollution, degradation and damage to the Vaal River.

“This is an unspoilt area,” says local conservationist Steve Hill. “The Vaal is a national asset. When the river is dead, we can’t get it back.”

MWS says no defects found in pipelines

In its response, Mine Waste Solutions (MWS) stated that “when spillages happen, they are cleaned up” and that the company was taking the blame for spillages caused by other mining operations in the area.

“Mr (Flip) Jooste has a somewhat flexible approach to the truth when it suits him.

“Mr Jooste’s actions should perhaps be viewed in the light of his current attempt to claim over R600 000 from MWS for ‘farming losses’,” it said.

The company said it did not discharge into the Koekemoerspruit.

“It is likely the spillages on Mr Kondos’ farm are from three dams belonging to Buffelsfontein Gold Mine. Those sections of the pipeline belonging to MWS that do traverse the Koekemoerspruit are buried and encased in concrete, as per the specifications of the Department of Water Affairs.

“The MWS pipeline integrity is tested and independently signed off by the contractors responsible for the installation of the pipeline on the newly-constructed sections of the pipeline…

“Thus far, no structural defects have been noted,” it said. – Saturday Star


Notification of the Withdrawal of the Application of an Amendment of the Environmental Authorisation and Environmental Management Programme for the Sweet Sensation Sand Mining Operation in Free State

The concerted efforts and submissions to the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), the Applicant and its appointed Environmental Assessment Practitioner (EAP) by the Protect Vaal Eden Committee, Vaal Eden community, and the Federation for a Sustainable Environment have resulted in the withdrawal of the application of an amendment of the environmental authorisation and environmental management programme for the Sweet Sensation Sand Mining operation adjacent to the Vaal River.  The EAP was notified by the DMRE that further specialist studies would be required to determine the impact the application for a screening plant and process would have on the environment and that a Regulation 31 amendment process, which involves a public participation process, must be undertaken.  The FSE welcomes the DMRE’s notification. Notification letter attached for download

Pelicam Award for Jozi Gold

The Pelicam Film Festival in Rumania has awarded Jozi Gold a Special Mention.  ...


Mind the Gap consortium launched the new website featuring fi...


"Varkies" gou op hok, maar als nie pluis | Beeld

Article also available for download as an attachment.

Radon Alert - Carte Blanche

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

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

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

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

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


Development of the National Eutrophication Strategy and Supporting Documents

Attached documents:1. DWS Eutrophication SA & GA PSC 1 BID2. PSC 1 Meeting Agenda - Eutrophication Strategy3. Issues and Response Register - Inception Report Comments

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 wat...