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Mine Shafts: Accidents waiting to happen

Written by  Sheree Bega Monday, 06 March 2017 05:47
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Eighty-two shafts without warning signs.  Twenty-two open shafts.  Three waterlogged holings.  And of the reported closed mine shafts, 64 had collapsed or needed refilling.

These are among the main findings of a Department of Mineral Resources’ “Risk Area Status” report spanning the Witwatersrand’s mining belt from November 2011.

Its investigators also uncovered “subsidences that need to be inspected” and how “many of the open shafts and holings have been filled with sand and not rock material”, which may exacerbate the collapse of shafts and holings.

The same year, another report by then-Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development said 1.6 million impoverished people lived on mine residue deposits.

High risk informal settlements would need to be relocated to minimise human health risks.

But six years later, says Mariette Liefferink, a mining activist, little has been done to address this.

“There are so many of these mine shafts around Gauteng.  They’re just accidents waiting to happen.”

This week, after 5-year old Richard Thole fell into a mineshaft in Jerusalem, an informal settlement in Ekurhuleni, she appealed to authorities to tend to another: A new cave-in and road collapse near JC Esterhuysen Primary School in Riverlea, at Central Rand Gold’s open pit, west of Joburg.

“We’ve written so many letters to the DMR over the years about this but nothing’s been done.”

The department did not respond to a request for comment.

Liefferink points out how the National environmental Management Act imposes a duty of care upon the government and mining companies to protect communities, but “there is a systemic failure by the responsible organs of state to exercise their statutory duty of care in this regard.”

William Ntladi, the emergency services spokesman for Ekurhuleni, told the Sunday Independent that an agreement had been reached with the Council for Geoscience (CGS) that the mine shafts in the area would now be sealed.

A month ago, the concrete plug of the mine shaft under Jerusalem had collapsed.  Consequently a site inspection of various suspected shafts around the area was conducted by the city’s department of emergency management services and city planning departments, CGS and the DMR as he custodians of current and abandoned mines and (who) have a database of shafts.

“A decision was taken by the city and CGS on the closure of disused mine shafts in the agreement that the CGS would rehabilitate after an investigation of the ownership of the land.  These can only be done on shafts which have no owners.

“In the inspection of holes, some shafts/holes had been previously rehabilitated only to be vandalised by illegal miners to gain entry to the shafts.  Fences/barricades had been put up as a temporary measure but these were stolen.”

The CGS and DMR were the “only two institutions who have the expertise to (deal with) these matters and are also custodians of mining land.  The City of Ekurhuleni can only facilitate CGS and DMR as the city does not have old and new mine shaft plans nor the expertise in the rehabilitation of mine shafts”.

Balmoral Gold Mines sealed the shaft in the 1950’s.

“The informal settlement is on private mining land.  The city is relocating residents.  The municipality is engaging with the mining companies owning the land and the DMR, to come up with a better solution.”

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