Water News

Top Star: Jo'burg's real-estate wasteland Featured

Wednesday, 30 July 2014 07:04
Rate this item
(0 votes)

The city's landmark Top Star Drive-in site is a shadow of its former self, after the mine dump it perched atop was levelled and re-mined for gold.

An aerial view of the old Top Star Drive-in in Johannesburg.

The Top Star Drive-in ended its life with a whimper, closing the doors on four decades of back-seat fondling with a screening of the lacklustre action film Running Scared in 2008.
Perched on one of Johannesburg’s largest mine dumps, it had drawn many movie-goers over the years. But when the projectors fell silent and the large white screen went dark, the cars left and heavy mining machinery moved in to recycle the dump.
The five million tonnes of earth – the world’s largest oil platform weighs about a million tonnes – have now gone. It was turned into slurry and piped 40km to the east, to Brakpan, where it was reprocessed for gold.
The mining company DRD Gold extracted four tonnes of gold from the soil and created new mine dumps.
What is left on the original site are parts of the sides of the old dump and a large crater-like hole. Stagnant green ponds of water, bigger than Olympic-sized pools, break up the uneven floor of the crater. Layers of white calcite give way to various shades of red in the pools, giving a cross-section of all the chemicals and heavy metals exposed by mining.

Token attempt

There is no fence to stop people from wandering around the dump, which is crisscrossed by tyre tracks. The only token attempt to show that this is DRD Gold’s private property is a wall and gate, which is stuck open, at the southern side.
Inside the crater, the sides block out the view of Johannesburg. From the ridge, the city centre is only a kilometre away. AngloGold Ashanti’s headquarters rise into the sky, covered in a poster of a smiling miner.
The dump traces its roots to the mining boom and was started in 1899. It was first known as the Ferreira dump after the nearby deep mines that created it. Back then, the city did not extend that far south.
By the 1940s, the old mining barons had abandoned their shafts when they became unprofitable. By then, the Ferreira dump was 50m high and was put to another use – factories were built on it.
Then the mine owners applied for a township to be built on it. But members of the city council, quoted in the Rand Daily Mail in 1961, said it should not happen until a commission was appointed “to investigate the whole matter of building on old mine dumps”.
Finally permission was given, on condition that the council could not be held responsible for health or environmental problems. The official notice was signed off with “God save the Queen”.

Hotel proposal

The township was never built but the mine owners proposed that a hotel be built on the site. And, to take advantage of the dump’s close proximity to the city, they also planned to use its angled sides as illuminated 60m x 60m billboards.
When this fell through, the surface was tarred and the Top Star Drive-in was opened. The dump could now pay its way and for the next 40 years, Johannesburg had a drive-in close to the edge of the city – until the rising price of gold made re-mining the dump feasible.





Pipelines, billboards and stagnant water pools are all that remain of the mine dump that was a city beacon yet posed a very real environmental threat. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

In 2008, Crown Gold Recoveries, which had already been re-mining other dumps in the province, applied to mine the Top Star.
Crown Gold is owned by DRD Gold.
At first, the South African Heritage Resources Agency went to court to oppose this, saying the mine dump had been there for 60 years and therefore was protected. With the other mine dumps disappearing, the agency said it was critical to save this one to preserve the heritage of Johannesburg.

‘Unique character’

The environmental impact assessment, undertaken by Crown Gold Recoveries, also said the dump “provides the central city with its unique character and visual cultural landscape”.
With increasing pressure to save the drive-in, the mine responded by saying it would be opening up valuable real estate and getting rid of a source of air and water pollution.
The heritage agency then withdrew its case and the minerals department issued a mining permit.
But in its own closure plan for the province’s mines, the department said the land used for mine dumps is so polluted that it should never be used for residential purposes. Now, the site of the Top Star is a wasteland.
There are more than 200 mine dumps in and around Johannesburg, and they are slowly poisoning the city. The Cancer Association of South Africa says this is the only place on Earth where large numbers of people live next to mine dumps.
In the worst cases, they live on the dumps, such as at the Tudor shaft outside Krugersdorp.

Heavy metals

The soil contains a mixture of heavy metals and chemicals, such as uranium and lead, but their impact on human health has not been established, although the association says 400 000 people are exposed to low levels of radiation because of the dumps. In 2008, earth-moving machines, with high-pressure hoses, began breaking down the Top Star dump. Remnants of this activity – rusted metal pipes the width of a wrestler’s wrist – lie strewn around the crater. Two larger pipes that took the slurry to Brakpan leave from the southern end of the site.
James Duncan, the spokesperson of DRD Gold, said the site could be redeveloped, and the environmental management programme requires that it be rehabilitated. This entails eliminating the potential of acid mine drainage and radiation. The process is under way and will be completed within 18 months, he said.

Settlement in a dust storm

Re-mining operations near residential areas are blamed for many health problems.
The mine dumps near Riverlea, 10km west of the Top Star site, are also being re-mined by DRD Gold. The community was forcibly moved there in the 1960s. Because of vegetation and dust-control measures, the dumps did not pose a threat.
But residents claim that dust has become a serious problem since re-mining began. Faridea Appolis said last year that she was suffering from skin problems because of it and pointed to white sores on her arm. “That mine makes us all sick. People here are more sick than they are not,” she said.
Granwell Njars said: “In August, the wind blows the sand so much that you cannot even see in front of you. It goes into bread bins, into your television. It even eats steel.”
James Duncan, the spokesperson for the mine, said at the time: “Dust measurements from this particular site are generally within the regulated limits.”
Because his company did not want to get involved in a media debate, he did not want to say anything more.
Referring to allegations of health problems, he said: “The burden of proof rests with the complainants.”

Read 16392 times Last modified on Friday, 06 November 2015 07:35


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 www.mindthegap.ngo 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...