Mining the Pilanesberg

Written by  Carte Blanche Sunday, 17 March 2013 20:02
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49 000 hectares of big five game reserve only two hours from Jo'burg... The Pilanesberg National Park is one of the top tourist destinations in the country.

Derek Watts (Carte Blanche presenter): "And then a plan to make it even bigger and better, a corridor from here in the Pilanesberg linking this big five reserve with Madikwe. A heritage park with benefits for the local people, great for wildlife, a win-win project all round."



In anticipation of 275 000 hectors of big five country, Black Rhino Private [Game] Reserve on the northern border of Pilanesberg took down their fences. Chris Basson thought he had bought into a piece of paradise.

Derek: "What did you have in mind when you first bought into this development?"

Chris Basson (Black Rhino Private Game Reserve): "Derek, to have a little piece of Africa. When we first started here way back in 2005 it was really magnificent. The sense of place was amazing. You would come out here at night - there wasn't a light to be seen, no noise, there was nothing!"

Derek: "Around 2005 the platinum price was starting to skyrocket and, as it happens, the proposed heritage site was slap bang in the middle of some of the richest deposits in the world."

Platmin are the Pilanesberg reserve's new neighbours

The mine is planned for just off the fence line of the park. As intrusive as it is already, Chairman Brian Gilbertson is determined to turn this into a mega-mine complex.

Environmental scientist Dr Shan Holmes is sounding alarm bells.

Dr Shan Holmes (Environmental scientist): "We are looking at Platmin trying to, in a way, establish its own little mining belt in and around the Pilanesberg."

Dr Holmes: "All of this [around Pilanesberg] is under mining or proposed mining."

In four years Platmin has already gouged out an 80 metre deep open cast pit, and in future they want to dig down 200 metres deep. Mining so deeply means Platmin will have to dewater the pit.

Dr Holmes: "And in so doing you are in fact polluting the aquifer."

CEO Tom Dale declined an on camera interview, but in a written response says: "There is no water pollution associated with platinum mining because high quality rain water will be harvested, the dam created in the redundant pit will provide a source of good quality water."

Dr Holmes: "This is water that is classified as 'mine waste water', so to say that platinum mining does not cause water pollution is a gross misrepresentation."

Shan believes Platmin's mega-mine will threaten the water available for both humans and animals. Platmin's own research documents warn these springs in the north of the reserve could also dry up.

Dr Holmes: "It basically means that they will be mining out the ecological water resource and the National Water Act in fact protects and calls for conservation in and around such areas."

Water here is so precious that the Department of Water have red flagged this entire area. Yet mines - huge water guzzlers - are springing up throughout the North West. Bart Dorrestein, chairman of the Liberty group is alarmed.

Bart Dorrestein (Chairman: Legacy Group): "At the moment licences have been granted extensively all the way around the park."

Legacy own several hotels and co-own three lodges with the North West parks board in Pilanesberg. Bart is pro responsible mining.

Bart: "What we have done is written to government to say, 'Let's agree that we cannot issue more mining licences until we have done a full audit of the water.'"

For the next 12 years at least Platmin will use millions of litres of water a day. But they promise once they leave they will transform this pit into a dam for the community and the animals, for leisure and drinking. Bring your brollies and picnics!

Derek: "Platmin paint a picture of a wonderful dam, a lake almost like a leisure resort?"

Dr Holmes: "I think that is just an excuse not to backfill a substantially large pit and we have no idea where the water is going to come from to fill that pit."

But Platmin say: "The mine's approach to rehabilitation and conservation during mining operations promotes biodiversity. The delivery of a large water source at the cessation of operations would support biodiversity and provide socioeconomic upliftment."

A more likely picture comes from their own environmental research documents. There we find examples like these and warnings of a sterile water source that will take between eighty to a hundred years to fill up. Platmin told Carte Blanche that the flooding would commence in approximately 12 years.

Dr Holmes: "In fact it might just end up looking like the Kimberly Hole where it is a very deep quarry with a little bit of water at the bottom."

What we do know is that when Platmin wanted their license they promised to fill up and rehabilitate this entire pit and return it to grazing. Price tag for that: R800-million. Price tag for their revised plan where they walk away after mining and hope nature fills up the pit: R200-million! A R600-million saving. So is Platmin's pit promise just a ploy?

Dr Holmes: "That is impossible. Its not going to have those beautiful mountains in the background because those mountains in the background are going to consist of very substantial tailings dams."

Platmin say that the DMR have approved their plan to flood, but the DMR tell Carte Blanche that their approval is based on complete backfilling. Water Affairs say they haven't approved the plan yet either.

Derek: "Blasting, dust, water pollution, even Sun City is starting to feel uncomfortable about their new neighbours."

Sun City are less affected by Platmin operating on the northern fence line of the park, than some of their southern mining neighbours who have encroached right up to their doorstep.

Graeme Stephens (CEO: Sun International): "As a minimum it's detracting from the tourism experience that our guests are coming for."

CEO Graeme Stephens say integral to their tourist offering is water. They have been told that with current infrastructure they have less than 10 years of secure supply. Now they plan to approach government to intervene.

Graeme: "What's happened over the years is that the proliferation of mines has started to tap into that resource and it's running dangerously low."

Sun International approached Mariette Liefferink. She annoyed Platmin when she laid a criminal charge against them for operating without a water use licence. She has publicly criticised them. Mostly she reminds them what is in their own documents. In turn they have said of her organisation the FSE: "In our view the FSE's intentions are self serving, lack legitimacy and are without scientific base. Its approach adds nothing to the process of constructive debate and indeed may have a negative impact on the country's economic growth."

Mariette Liefferink (CEO: Federation for a Sustainable Environment): "I have never been informed where the misrepresentation is or where the unscientific statement had been."

Mariette has been doing workshops with the communities. Platmin say they
have contributed significant amounts of money to the local communities through various projects. But at the workshops she hears a different story

Man 1: "They did not consult with us."

They say houses are cracking from blasting, boreholes are drying up, and there are respiratory problems. Joseph Chilaule is disdainful of Platmin.

Joseph Chilaule (Traditional healer): "The mine is next door to us but they don't help us with anything. They don't employ our children, they don't fix our roads, they do absolutely nothing for us!"

Mmuthi Pilane and Joseph Chilaule are rebels. They reject Platmin's BEE partner, chief of the Bakgatle Ba Kgafela, Nyalala Pilane as their leader, accusing him of enriching himself at the tribe's expense. Nyalala Pilane obtained an interdict against Mmuthi Pilane. Mmuthi has appealed to the Constitutional Court and last week won his case with costs.

Muthi Pilane: "When I look at the pit I become emotional because PPM they are damaging our land and we don't benefit a cent from that. So it makes me cross."

Nyalala Pilane is a controversial character and has weathered several allegations of corruption against him. He says the allegations of stolen money are unfounded and that his authority was never questioned until he negotiated deals that resulted in revenue for the community

Derek: "With mining operations gnawing away at the vital and already narrow corridor short term hopes for the heritage park were starting to diminish and right now things don't look good."

Moreme Lesenjane is the Head of Expansion at North West Parks, so the Heritage Park is his concern.

Moreme Lesenjane (Head of Expansion: North West Parks): "With the mining activity taking place there it is going to shrink that connection, that is one. And two, is going to delay it by 15 years because that is the lifespan of the mine activity there and its an open cast mining."

But Platmin say they are supportive of the park. As far as the corridor goes they say it was originally only 1.5km wide so reducing it to 1km wouldn't really make a difference.

Derek: "So this has really destroyed the ideals of the heritage park?"

Moreme: "It has decreased its size; it is affecting its quality. It's killing its sense of place from a tourism point of view."

What seems even more ironic is that the government owned Industrial Development Corporation helped make this happen. They ploughed R3.2-billion towards the mega-mine. For them it's a well considered investment decision that is attractive because its community owned and promises 9000 jobs.

Derek : "Does anybody care in any of these departments when there are minerals to be mined?"

Dr Holmes: "Well, seemingly not! If the proposed plans to mine around the perimeter of the Pilanesberg and slap bang in the middle of the heritage park, then one needs to apply one's mind if there will in fact be a Pilanesberg in the future."

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‘People the same as pigs’ in the VaalBy Sheree Bega | 16 Oct 2020 Foul: Pigs root in sludge in Emfuleni municipality. (Photos: Delwyn Verasamy/M&G) Clutching her one-year-old son, Monica Ndakisa jumps onto a brick to avoid the sewage that runs like a dark stain across the passage in her home.  “We’ve lived like this for years,” she says pointing to one of the culprits: her blocked toilet, which causes sewage to pool into nearly every room of her home in Sebokeng hostel in the Vaal. “The smell is too terrible.” It’s worse outside. Her small garden is submerged in a sickly, grey sewage swamp. To stop the human waste from seeping inside, Ndakisa has built a concrete barrier at her front door. But it’s futile. “My five-year-old son was in the hospital for two weeks with severe eczema and they told me it’s because of all this sewage. It makes us cough all the time. It’s so depressing to live like this.” Samson Mokoena, of the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (Veja), shakes his head. “It’s chaos. You can’t allow people to live in such conditions. The government is playing with our people.” Ndakisa’s neighbour, Maphelo Apleni, has used pipes to divert the stream of sewage from his garden. “It never stops,” he says grimly. “We have a municipality [Emfuleni] that doesn’t care about us.” Mziwekaya Mokwana points at a sewage-filled furrow clogged with litter where pigs are feeding. “This is no better life,” he says. “People are the same as pigs here.” Sewage in Vaal River system  Last month, the human settlements, water and sanitation department said it would take at least another three years to minimise and eventually stop the sewage flowing into the Vaal River system. In a recent presentation, it states how “design treatment capacity is at its limit, housing development investments are delayed and there are negative environmental and health impacts”. Ageing infrastructure is to blame for sewage spillages, coupled “with a lack of operation and maintenance investment” as well as theft and vandalism.  It will cost about R2.2-billion “to have a sustainable impact on the Vaal River catchment within Emfuleni local municipality”. The department’s plan aims to safeguard infrastructure; repair the bulk network to eliminate spillages, key and critical pump stations and rising mains; refurbish wastewater treatment works “in an attempt to comply with discharge licence conditions”; and achieve operation and maintenance requirements. But Maureen Stewart, the vice-chairperson of Save the Vaal (Save) is sceptical. 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The total investment by the department in 2020/21 financial year is R1.2-billion in the Vaal; this includes the building of additional wastewater treatment capacity and associated pump stations.” Maphelo Apleni installs pipes to drain sewage out of his garden. Before the end of the financial year Module 6 in Sebokeng water care works will be launched, “subject to no community unrest disrupting construction”. The department, Ratau says, has to take all necessary precautions to ensure that section 217 of the constitution is followed as far as procurement is concerned.  “Thus the departmental checks and balances had to be followed to the letter to ensure compliance with procurement processes. This unfortunately caused delays but was necessary.” Within the next month the department aims to advertise for all the contractors “that can assist in this challenge”. Ratau says commitment dates, including start and completion dates, “will be sent not only to Save but all interested stakeholders once the contractors are appointed. The department cannot preempt this before the appointments are made.” He says that R7-billion is required to “solve the pollution challenge in ELM. This needs to be coupled with operations and maintenance, which is a function of ELM at local government level”. Save is once again taking the government to court to enforce legislation to ensure infrastructure is repaired within phased completion dates and that sufficient funds are made available for ongoing maintenance and operation of the system by the municipality, supervised by the high court.   Veja’s Mokoena is glad the department is taking over the Vaal clean-up. “This situation was supposed to be fixed a long time ago. So much money has been squandered at the municipal level.” Rand Water’s delay Eight months. That’s how long it took Rand Water to release public water quality records for the Vaal Barrage system to a team of aquatic specialists investigating the ecological health of the river system.  In January, Aquatic Ecosystems of Africa submitted a Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia) application to Rand Water for access to its water quality analysis data for the Vaal Barrage and downstream since 2015.  Nothing happened, it says, until Tshepang Sebulela, the Paia compliance officer from the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) intervened late last month.  New pipelines are being installed in the Vaal. In an email to Rand Water, Sebulela noted how the multiple requests for records by Aquatic Ecosystems and the Federation for a Sustainable Environment have allegedly been ignored, which in terms of Paia are deemed refusals.  “The SAHRC is greatly concerned by a large number of public institutions who provide such important services to the public who refuse to meet their basic legislative obligations,” he wrote. The records landed in the firm’s inbox on 2 October.  Aquatic Systems’ Simone Liefferink says sourcing surface water system data is becoming increasingly difficult. “It’s disturbing the data is not adequately managed, readily accessible to the public and private sectors who pay tax and other water charges for effective catchment management to be implemented.”  Rand Water did not explain the reason behind the delay.  That the information was provided in a PDF format of almost 2 000 pages “frustrates and delays” its interpretation, says Liefferink.  She and her partner, Russell Tate, began their investigation after a major fish kill in the Vaal River in mid-2018. That September they testified at the HRC’s inquiry into the contamination of the Vaal River that high levels of ammonia from the wastewater treatment works was wiping out life in the river system. 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