January 2014 Report

Written by  Tuesday, 18 February 2014 09:17
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An abridged report (not inclusive of all the activities) of some of the FSE’s activities during January, 2014 which may be of interest or relevance:

The FSE has conducted a tour of the West Rand goldfields with Prof. John Knox and UNEP officials on the 25th of January, 2014.  Prof. Knox is an internationally recognized expert on human rights law and international environmental law. In July 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed him to a three-year mandate as its first Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. In that position, he is preparing a series of reports to the Human Rights Council on the relationship of human rights and environmental protection.  
The FSE also conducted a tour on the 28th of the West Rand goldfields with Dr Sybille Vermont as the Deputy Head of the Swiss Environmental Department (BAFU) responsible for international collaboration and colleagues.  Dr. Vermont is interested to explore potential collaboration in the domain of paleontology and then of course AMD water related issues due to the pollution of the aquifer under the Cradle for Humankind.  Engineers from the engineering firm, Read, Swatman & Voigt (Pty) Ltd. participated in the tour.
 
10th of January - Tour of the West Rand goldfields with the Luxin Foundation and Jacquelene Friedenthal, the Science & Technology Counselor (Embassy of Switzerland in South Africa)
18th of January, 2014 - workshop with the youth in Khutsong.
21st of January, 2014 - workshop with the farmers and emerging black farmes within the Westonaria/Fochville area with presentations by Goldfields, Sibanye Gold and Gold One.

 
 
22nd of February, 2014 -  Participation in the key stakeholder meeting pertaining to the DWA’s Fatal Flaw Analysis For The Proposed Short Term Sludge Storage Facility And Pipeline Associated With The Treatment Of Acid Mine Drainage In The Eastern Basin Of The Witwatersrand Gold Fields and submitted verbal and written comments.
23 and 24th of January 2014 - participation in the United Nations’ Human Rights (Office of the High Commissioner) and UNEP’s Constitutional Rights to a Healthy Environment: Consultation on Good Practices with a Focus on Africa consultative meeting.  Please see appended hereto two of the documents which were submitted pursuant to the said consultative meeting.
29 January 2014 – WRC Workshop on the selection and costing of water reclamation and re-use options.
30 January 2014 – Focus group meetings with the Kalbasfontein/Cardoville/Raatskraal Farmers.
31 January 2014 – interview with the Senior Advisor, Private Sector Department Oxfam America on the social and environmental impacts of gold mining.
With reference to my recent appointment by the Department of Water Affairs as member of the Regional Steering Committee (RSC) for the formation of the Vaal Catchment Management Agency:  As you may reflect, the duties and powers of a CMA are discussed in the National Water Act.  In terms of the e.g. Section 19 of the National Water Act, a catchment management agency may direct any person who fails to take measures to prevent or remedy the effects of pollution to commence taking specific measures before a given date; diligently continue with those measures, and complete them before a given date.  Should a person fail to comply, or comply inadequately with a directive , the catchment management agency may take the measures it considers necessary to remedy the situation and recover all costs incurred as a result of its acting jointly and severally from any person who is or was responsible for, or who directly or indirectly contributed to the pollution or the potential pollution, etc.)  

In view of the above-mentioned, it is sincerely hoped that the FSE will be in the position to assist with the minimisation and prevention of pollution.  
3rd of February, 2014:  The FSE has called for an important meeting with key stakeholders, including the liquidator, Prof. Tracy Humby of the Wits Law School (advisor to the FSE), the Legal Resources Centre (representing the FSE), the DMR, the DEA, the Chamber of Mines, the FWRDWA, GDARD, the DWA, the WRDM and the Tlokwe and Merafong Local Municipalities on the 3rd of February, 2014 to discuss issues pertaining to the provisional winding up of the Blyvooruitzicht Gold Mine and subsequent developments (please see appended news media report).  

The Blyvoor issue is a complicated case and it may have negative or positive impacts upon neighbouring mines and mines within the region. During the meeting on the 3rd of February, 2014, it is our intention to attempt to find answers to the following important questions:  (Prof. Tracy Humby will lead us in debating these issues.)

  • What are the environmental obligations of the Blyvooruitzicht Gold Mining Company (BGMC)?
  • What should happen to these environmental obligations:
    • when the BGMC is wound up?
    • when another company such as Goldrich buys the mine?
    • What is the role of the DMR/DEA/GDARD in these circumstances and what are their powers?

It is hoped that the liquidator, Mr. Roering will assist us in explaining what Goldrich is buying. Are they buying shares in the BGMC? If this is so then BGMC continues to exist as a corporate entity holding the (still old order) mining right. Or are they just buying certain assets of the BGMC? If so, will the winding up of the BGMC still proceed? What is the DMR doing about approving this transfer and about transferring the environmental liabilities?

The FSE submitted two PAIA applications (please see appended) to the DMR.  While the FSE did not receive, at the time of writing a response, the DMR did participate in a meeting on the 22nd of November 2013 and on the 7th of December. During the FSE’s meeting on the 7 of December, 2013 with the DMR, Merafong Local Municipality, the liquidator, Blyvoor Mine, GDARD, WRDM, DWA and DEA and affected community representatives, the DMR stated that a directive would be issued against Blyvoor Mine and its mine manager to address the environmental impacts.   

There is provision made in the environmental legislation for the relevant and affected state departments (Environmental Affairs, DMR and Water Affairs) to issue directives as contemplated in section 28(4) of NEMA compelling the Blyvooruitzicht Gold Mine to undertake the requisite remediation, failing which for the relevant department to undertake the requisite remediation and recover the costs in terms of section 28(7) and (8) of NEMA (and hence submit a claim in their capacity as creditor). Similar provisions exist in section 19 of the National Water Act 36 of 1998 for the said departments to issue a directive contemplated in section 19(1), and failing which for the departments to then undertake the remedial measures themselves and recover the costs thus incurred in terms of section 19(4) and 19(5)  whereafter the Department of Water Affairs would be able to submit a claim as a creditor in terms of the winding up process. In similar vein application may be made to compel the Minister to issue the directives as contemplated in section 45 of the MPRDA, and to conduct the remediation and recover the costs in terms of section 45 and 46 of the MPRDA, whereafter the Minister may lodge a claim as creditor in terms of the winding up applications. The FSE is unsure regarding the current status of the directive.  

Anglo Gold Ashanti has submitted a Basic Assessment Report for comment on the Decommissioning of Redundant Infrastructure (West Wits Operations and Vaal Operations).  The FSE has submitted comments.
The FSE was interviewed by inter alia ANN7 (African News Network) on illegal mining within the goldfields on the 8th of January, 2014; by  Radio 702 on the impact of mining on water resources, by Engineering News on AGA’s Vaal Operations, by Saturday Star and Beeld on Mintails operations, by the Mail & Guardian on Blyvooruitzicht Mine, by the Saturday Star on the long term treatment of AMD, by the Carletonville Herald on Mintails’ operations and the Blyvooruitzicht Mine, with Bloomsberg News on radioactivity within the goldfields, etc.

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The Federation for a Sustainable Environment’s ongoing role in addressing the sewage pollution in the Vaal River

‘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. She says there is no political will to tackle the crisis. “These problems go back over 12 yearsand reached crisis proportions when the system collapsed in 2018. The result is some 200 million litres of raw or partially treated sewage entering the Vaal River and its tributaries daily.” Stewart warns that it’s an ecological disaster that also affects agriculture and has serious health implications for people living above and below the Vaal Barrage Reservoir, which is 64km long and used to supply Johannesburg with water but is now too polluted to do so.   She says the Emfuleni municipality has been under Gauteng’s administration since mid-2018 and, despite promises, the status quo remains — unbridled sewage pollution of the Vaal River and Emfuleni.  “The Ekurhuleni Water Care Company (Erwat) was appointed to take over in 2019 and were given funding and spent R179-million. Their contribution was to unblock pipes and remove 50 tons of rubbish from the system. This opened the pipes but, as the pump stations and the three wastewater treatment plants remain dysfunctional, there has been no improvement. Raw sewage continues to flow into the Vaal River and into the streets of Emfuleni.”  Monica Ndakisa sweeps overspill from her toilet. There was a “glimmer of hope” when Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, visited the Vaal in January this year, assuring Save that action will be taken and that funds are earmarked in the 2020-2021 budget.  “It seems her enthusiasm has not filtered down to her department,” says Stewart. “After Erwat’s contract was not renewed, the department stated they would undertake the repairs by appointing their own contractors. Tender documents have been languishing on someone’s desk at the department since July.” Sputnik Ratau, spokesperson for the department, says the government has committed resources towards solving the sewage problem in the Vaal.  “Government sent state institutions to assist Emfuleni local municipality (ELM) in this regard; these include SANDF and Erwat. Recently, the department finalised the scope of all that needs to be done to solve the sewage problem. There are 26 work packages that will be advertised in the coming weeks for competent contractors to take part in solving the sewage challenge in the Vaal.”  The department, says Ratau, aims to have a “busy festive season” working with the appointed contractors. “In the 2020/21 financial year, the department has committed R911-million towards solving this challenge. 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. A snap-shot analysis of the data provided by Rand Water shows high levels of E coli, ammonium and ammonia — key indicators of sewage pollution. Average E coli counts soared from 12 705 colony-forming units per 100ml in 2010 to more than 107 000 in 2018 and 66 923 in 2020.  “The contributing factor is clear — dysfunctional sewage treatment conveyances and treatment plants. More disturbing is the long-standing deterioration of the system that ever increases the loss of biodiversity and other essential ecological functions and human services. Yet this matter is still not treated with extreme urgency,” says Liefferink. HRC’s long-awaited report It’s taken nearly two years for the Human Rights Commission to release its report into the Emfuleni sewage crisis. “Their report has not yet been taken to parliament, nor has it been published. Why?” asks Save’s Stewart. Buang Jones, the Gauteng manager of the HRC, says the provincial report has been finalised.  “It’s with the commissioners now for final adoption and approval. Once it’s been approved, it will be shared with implicated parties and they’ll have 10 days to comment. This is a countrywide issue and the report seeks to address broader challenges when it comes to river pollution and wastewater management,” he says.  Read the original article here.

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