There is a powerful taboo in South Africa against questioning mining development or questioning the environmental and social performance of mining companies. If you do, you may be labelled a “self-appointed Uber Regulator” or a “vigilante organisation” or accused of “pushing an agenda” (although the agenda is not explained) and demonstrating “mala fide,” or some other derogatory term suggestion that you are either foolish or selfish with no concern for the poor. Why this taboo? South Africa is in the grip of a powerful development myth. In its simplest form this is a belief that by authorising mining applications (some in ecologically sensitive areas, wetlands, rivers and fresh water ecosystem priority areas) it will increase economic growth and create more jobs and wealth for more people, and everyone in South Africa will be better off. (Reference: “Maintaining profits or sustaining people and planet?” Guest Essay by Dr. Eureta Rosenberg. Enviropaedia 2006 – 2008.)
The reality is, however, that irresponsible mining operations often gobbles up land, water and the diversity of life and spew out hazardous and toxic waste, technologically enhanced toxic and radioactive metals, acid mine water, degraded land and pollution in the name of job creation. These unintended outcomes worsen poverty and create new health risks. In view of the aforesaid, FSE has lobbied and advocated during 2013 that before a mining application is authorised, the costs of the impacts – not only the current impacts but the post closure (latent or residual) impacts, which may continue for hundreds of years after mine closure – be quantified and financially provided for. It is the FSE’s firm and deliberate opinion that a mining application ought not to be authorised unless a mining company has demonstrated that it has adequate financial provisions to address the life time of the impacts and not merely the impacts during the life time of its operations. Sustainability must be inter-generational and not only focussed on the short term profits for the mining companies. The FSE will continue, in 2014, to focus on the financial provisions of mining companies to ensure that their current as well as latent and residual (post-closure) environmental and social impacts are adequately mitigated and managed and financially provided for. The refusal by authorities to enforce the law in cases of gross violations will also be a priority for the FSE this coming year. Authorities must understand that they are entrusted to regulate and act, and not merely observe in a state of passiveness.
In South Africa, one of our biggest employers for more than a century has been the mines. But the industry continues to shed jobs, falling from nearly 800 000 in 1987, to less than 500 000 today. In the 12 months to June 2013 another 23 000 jobs were lost. Many of our gold mines are worked out of higher grade ore and in many others the higher grades are now found at increasing depths, making it less practical to mine them, We are no longer the top gold producer on the planet, We are now number six, producing only 7% of the newly mined gold. (Reference: Debate. Volume 2. Edition 4. Spring 2013. “The end of employment.” Compiled by Wessel Ebersohn.)
Post-closure sustainable land uses with associated water use and adequate closure provisions particularly financial provisions have become increasingly critical. The historical boom in mineral resources has failed to establish lasting, positive legacies for mining communities, who are and will be living with the legacy. Very often mineral exploitation has robbed communities of actual and potential livelihood opportunities. The FSE will continue in 2014 to lobby and advocate for the establishment of sustainable future land use objectives, at the commencement of the mining operations and continued throughout the life of the operations, in consultation with interested and affected parties, The FSE will continue to campaign in 2014 for mine closure to include the restoration of land surface of sufficient quality to support pre-mining land-use potential, and restoration of the ecological function of mined land and developmental objectives such as efficient alternative use of mine infrastructure, job creation through education and stimulation of economic activity and development project to enable equitable participation in post mining economies by all members of the community, especially marginalized groups. (Reference: Preparation for Closure – Community Engagement and Readiness Starting with Exploration. E.M. Hoadley. Mine Closure 2008. ISBN 978-0-9804185-6-9.)
I wish to extend my gratitude to the FSE’s directors, friends, members, management, employees and volunteers for their continued support and dedication which have sustained the FSE through the challenges of the year. Together we can look forward with confidence to the year ahead.
Dr. Koos Pretorius