Water News

Editor

Editor

ORIGINAL ARTICLE AVAILABLE HERE.

Documentary Jozi Gold had its world premiere at the 21st Encounters South African International Documentary Festival this week, and some of what it revealed about mining pollution is truly shocking. Grethe Kemp reviews the film.

Jozi Gold

Directors: Sylvia Vollenhoven, Fredrik Gertten

4 stars

 

Johannesburg is the most uranium contaminated city on Earth.

These and other shocking truths are revealed in new documentary Jozi Gold directed by South African writer, award-winning journalist, playwright and film maker Sylvia Vollenhoven and award-winning Swedish director and journalist Fredrik Gertten.

By focusing on the dogged efforts of environmental activist Mariette Liefferink, we are shown how Johannesburg’s mines have contaminated virtually everything in our city – from the water, to the air, to the ground.

While some communities live on radioactive land, others struggle with water laden with heavy metals.

But all of us – yes, every single Joburger – is affected by the mining fall-out in some way. The problem is that we don’t even fully know what it’s doing to us.

Liefferink herself is the kind of subject film makers dream of. The documentary’s opening shot sees her traipsing around an excavated field in sky-high heels, dressed to a tee in black tights, an orange blazer and plenty of jewellery.

A soft-spoken tannie with a clipped Afrikaans accent and coiffed blonde hair, she tells us later that she used to be a Jehovah’s Witness, so she’s used to be being “severely disliked”.

And dislike is a feeling she must drum up, as she chases down the CEOs of mining companies and holds the government department officials to account for exposing people to hazardous mining pollution.

Liefferink says she sees herself as a marathon runner instead of a sprinter, because her work requires a great deal of stamina.

In one scene, we watch her patiently phone a government department to lay a complaint about the discharge of untreated mine water into a river system.

It’s the 10th time she’s phoning, and she’s again sent from pillar to post.

She hangs up cordially, then blinks away tears.

But hounding the government officials – too often unsuccessfully – is not her primary work.

Liefferink believes that environmental and social justice are inextricably linked, and she works with communities to hold mining companies to account.

In one case, she laid a criminal complaint at the local police against the former owner of the Blyvoor mine, for numerous environmental infractions committed between 2008 and this year.

She didn’t think anything would come of it, but to her surprise, the state decided to prosecute the mining directors responsible.

It’s a huge victory for the Blyvoor community, which has been dealing with the effects of mining pollution for years.

A third of all the gold in human history was mined in Johannesburg, and it was what gave birth to the city.

But now we’re dealing with an environmental crisis that few of us even know the extent of.

Jozi Gold is a superbly shot documentary that we should all see. And Mariette Liefferink is someone who we should all know about, and support.

 

ORIGINAL ARTICLE AVAILABLE HERE.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019 10:59

Note on the Jozi Gold Documentary

With reference to the statement in the Jozi Gold Documentary Film that “the golden era has left 12 million people living on grounds more radioactive than Chernobyl”  the FSE wishes to advise that according to its understanding the number is not 12 million people but approximately 400,000 people. Furthermore, while it is the FSE’s understanding that the majority of mine residue areas are radioactive, the FSE has no knowledge of the fact that “the grounds are more radioactive than Chernobyl”.

 

In substantiation:

 

According to Tang & Watkins (2011) it is estimated that 25 percent of the population in Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni live in informal settlements, and approximately one quarter of them, 400,000 people, are in the mining belt. The settlements range from 100 to 40,000 people, with the largest communities in Ekurhuleni.

 

According to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (2011), the majority of mine residue areas (MRAs) is radioactive because the Witwatersrand gold‐bearing ores contain almost ten times the amount of uranium than gold.

 

References: Tang, D & Watkins, A 2011, ‘Ecologies of Gold: The Past and Future Mining Landscapes of Johannesburg’, Places Journal,

https://placesjournal.org/article/ecologies‐of‐gold‐mining‐landscapes‐of‐johannesburg/?cn‐reloaded=1#0

 

Department of Agriculture and Rural Development 2011, Feasibility Study on Reclamation of Mine Residue Areas for Development Purposes: Phase II Strategy and Implementation Plan, Technical report no. 788/06/01/2011, Gauteng.

Thursday, 13 June 2019 09:23

Jozi Gold Screening

Jozi Gold is showing this week at the Encounters Film Festival in Cape Town. There will be a screening with a Q&A afterwards at the Labia on Sunday June 16th at 3pm.

 

The ART MEETS ACTIVISM Master Class is on Saturday June 15th from 2 pm to 4 pm.

 

The Jozi Gold Impact & Outreach Campaign will run from now until the end of the year and we will arrange screenings for groups of interested organisations and individuals.

 

Supporting documents attached for download.

- Jozi Gold Explanatory Note

- Film Synopsis




WATCH: illegal miners hit Mintails mine on West Rand here.

PODCAST: Abandoned mines in South Africa are causing a safety and health risk here.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019 10:21

FSE's Cold Gold Appeal

The Appeal Authority in terms of Section 43(6) of the NEMA has decided to set aside the decision of the DMR to grant an Environmental Authorisation to the Applicant for the prospecting of coal on farm Golden Valley within the magisterial district of Magaliesburg.  The FSE and the Magaliesburg Community Forum lodged appeals against the Environmental Authorisation by the DMR.

MINING WEEKLY

Unfolding environmental disaster

4TH JUNE 2019 

BY: AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY

 

A security company responsible for safeguarding a gold treatment plant belonging to Mintails on the West Rand withdrew last week, citing “financial constraints”. The evacuation, which follows the liquidation of the embattled mining company and its subsidiaries, has left the door wide open to zama-zamas and looters, who are plundering the facility and driving their stash off the premises by the bakkie load.

“This is wholesale looting and scavenging of anything of value from copper cables to sheets of metal,” warned environmental activist Mariette Liefferink. “The site is under the control of heavily armed [illegal] miners who control all access to the plant.”

 

Watching the activity from a distance, the men and women carrying tools and blowtorches clearly know what they are doing, creating the impression that this is organised crime. This past weekend climbers, equipped with ropes, scaled the infrastructure of the upper plant.

Steel construction was falling like nobody’s business,” said an eyewitness. “The liquidators appear to have lost all interest in securing these assets.”

 

GUNFIGHTS


The situation has descended into anarchy. The looters are not shy to shoot and in the past week, there have been several gunfights when looters felt security or outsiders were encroaching on “their” site.  

Even the police are scared to intervene. According to witnesses, the authorities have done nothing given the dangers and the large numbers of looters at the facility.

“The Hawks have been fearful to get involved with the result that this is now a free-for-all.  The looting continues with no enforcement whatsoever,” said Liefferink.

She said the most worrying aspect of the looting was the cutting and stealing of a neighbouring electrical cable to Shaft 9 – this cable powers the pump station that removes acid mine water out of the shaft and into a nearby acid mine drainage treatment plant. Millions of litres of water are pumped daily to prevent the acid mine water reaching the surface and decanting into the surrounding Cradle of Humankind.

Sputnik Ratau, the spokesperson for the Department of Water and Sanitation, confirmed that the cable was sabotaged and stolen on 24 May.  

Power to the Western Basin acid mine drainage (AMD) pump station, on Mintails’s property, and the AMD Treatment Plant is thus compromised and the facility is currently not operational,” said Ratau.

“If the pumping stops for a prolonged period, like a month, we run the risk of a decant of toxic and radioactive acid mine water into the surrounding Cradle of Humankind.”

The underlying rock structure in the Cradle is porous dolomite and the acid mine water could dissolve the rock, destroying valuable fossils in this Unesco World Heritage site, which is internationally recognised for its hominid finds.

This would have serious implications for tourism in the area and would inevitably mean job losses.

“Especially for Bolt’s Farm and the Sterkfontein Caves that contain our most precious fossils and we will see an acceleration in the number of sinkholes forming as a result,” said Liefferink.

 

SERIOUS RISK


Many of the residents along the water system would be affected by a decant – their water would be contaminated and their health put at serious risk because they do not have access to municipal water.

“The people there are dependent on the water systems for their drinking water, for their animals and for irrigation,” says Liefferink.

The pump station was established by the Department of Water and Sanitation in response to a potential decant.

According to Liefferink, in 2002 the western basin in the area where the mine is situated flooded, leaving acid mine water to flow out with devastating consequences. It resulted in the Tweelopies Spruit and Wonderfontein Spruit becoming radioactive hotspots and acutely toxic, putting lives downstream at risk. 

“The Department of Water and Sanitation declared it an emergency.  They refurbished the treatment plant which pumps and processes around 40-million litres of acid mind water a day,” said Liefferink.

Her other worry is that the gold treatment plant is the only real asset left and this wholesale looting does not augur well for the recovery of the R460-million environmental liability that Mintails left on the West Rand. This amount was cited in the Parliamentary portfolio committee report by the Department of Minerals and Energy last year.

But the Department of Water and Sanitation said there was no immediate risk of raw AMD decanting. “The water level in the void is around 9-metres below the surface and this is considered ample buffer capacity for now,” said Ratau.

He added that the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA), a State-owned entity charged with financing and implementing bulk raw water infrastructure projects, is working closely with Sibanye-Stillwater and Eskom to restore the cable. This could be achieved by as early as Tuesday (June 4). Alternative interventions are also being costed so as to achieve a permanent remedy and for armed security personnel to be deployed at the pump station to deter future attempts of cabletheft or other damage to the pump station. 

 

 

The South African Health News Service

 

Mintails mining company and its subsidiaries have left the door open to zama-zamas and looters at their abandoned mine in the West Rand. Picture: Health-e News

 

Unfolding environmental disaster

Bernadette Maguire

 June 4, 2019

Features

 

Zama zamas are looting an abandoned mine near Krugersdorp. In the process, they have cut the electric cable to the acid mine drainage which poses the environment and the health hazards.

A security company responsible for safeguarding a gold treatment plant belonging to Mintails on the West Rand withdrew last week, citing “financial constraints”. The evacuation, which follows the liquidation of the embattled mining company and its subsidiaries, has left the door wide open to zama-zamas and looters, who are plundering the facility and driving their stash off the premises by the bakkie load.

“This is wholesale looting and scavenging of anything of value from copper cables to sheets of metal,” warned environmental activist Mariette Liefferink. “The site is under the control of heavily armed [illegal] miners who control all access to the plant.”

Watching the activity from a distance, the men and women carrying tools and blowtorches clearly know what they are doing, creating the impression that this is organised crime. This past weekend climbers, equipped with ropes, scaled the infrastructure of the upper plant.

 

 Zama zamas are stripping an old mine of anything from copper cables to sheets of metal. Photo: Health-e News.

“Steel construction was falling like nobody’s business,” said an eyewitness. “The liquidators appear to have lost all interest in securing these assets.”

 

Gunfights

The situation has descended into anarchy. The looters are not shy to shoot and in the past week, there have been several gunfights when looters felt security or outsiders were encroaching on “their” site.  

Even the police are scared to intervene. According to witnesses, the authorities have done nothing given the dangers and the large numbers of looters at the facility.

“The Hawks have been fearful to get involved with the result that this is now a free-for-all.  The looting continues with no enforcement whatsoever,” said Liefferink.

She said the most worrying aspect of the looting was the cutting and stealing of a neighbouring electrical cable to Shaft 9 – this cable powers the pump station that removes acid mine water out of the shaft and into a nearby acid mine drainage treatment plant. Millions of litres of water are pumped daily to prevent the acid mine water reaching the surface and decanting into the surrounding Cradle of Humankind.

 

 If the acid mine drainage at Mintails’s mine decants the impact on environment and health could be devastating. Photo: Health-e News

 

Sputnik Ratau, the spokesperson for the Department of Water and Sanitation, confirmed that the cable was sabotaged and stolen on 24 May.  

“Power to the Western Basin AMD pump station, on Mintails’s property, and the AMD (Acid Mine Drainage) Treatment Plant is thus compromised and the facility is currently not operational,” said Ratau.

“If the pumping stops for a prolonged period, like a month, we run the risk of a decant of toxic and radioactive acid mine water into the surrounding Cradle of Humankind.”

The underlying rock structure in the Cradle is porous dolomite and the acid mine water could dissolve the rock, destroying valuable fossils in this UNESCO World Heritage site, which is internationally recognised for its hominid finds.

This would have serious implications for tourism in the area and would inevitably mean job losses.

“Especially for Bolt’s Farm and the Sterkfontein Caves that contain our most precious fossils and we will see an acceleration in the number of sinkholes forming as a result,” said Liefferink.

 

Serious risk

Many of the residents along the water system would be affected by a decant – their water would be contaminated and their health put at serious risk because they do not have access to municipal water.

“The people there are dependent on the water systems for their drinking water, for their animals and for irrigation,” says Liefferink.

The pump station was established by the Department of Water and Sanitation in response to a potential decant.

According to Liefferink, in 2002 the western basin in the area where the mine is situated flooded, leaving acid mine water to flow out with devastating consequences. It resulted in the Tweelopies Spruit and Wonderfontein Spruit becoming radioactive hotspots and acutely toxic, putting lives downstream at risk.  

  

Potential water contamination. Photo: Health-e News

 

“The Department of Water and Sanitation declared it an emergency.  They refurbished the treatment plant which pumps and processes around 40-million litres of acid mind water a day,” said Liefferink.

Her other worry is that the gold treatment plant is the only real asset left and this wholesale looting does not augur well for the recovery of the R460-million environmental liability that Mintails left on the West Rand. This amount was cited in the Parliamentary portfolio committee report by the Department of Minerals and Energy last year.

But the Department of Water and Sanitation said there was no immediate risk of raw AMD decanting. “The water level in the void is around 9-metres below the surface and this is considered ample buffer capacity for now,” said Ratau.

He added that the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA), a state-owned entity charged with financing and implementing bulk raw water infrastructure projects, is working closely with Sibanye Stillwater and Eskom to restore the cable. This could be achieved by as early as Tuesday (4 June). Alternative interventions are also being costed so as to achieve a permanent remedy and for armed security personnel to be deployed at the pump station to deter future attempts of cable theft or other damage to the pump station.

 

Trail of destruction

Mintails has left a veritable trail of destruction:  the area is now characterised by deep, scarring opencast pits, massive unrehabilitated dumps and large bodies of toxic acid mine water. Very little was ever done to remediate the environment after they stripped the gold from the earth and recovered gold from the dumps. Massive cement pipes containing toxic mine tailings residue have been dug up and lie littered for kilometres.  These pose a serious risk to the health of communities living around these mines.

According to a 2013 study by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), exposure to acid mine water has serious health consequences, including an elevated risk of cancer and heavy metal poisoning. The CSIR concluded that an epidemiological study is needed but this has not yet been commissioned.

Liefferink is concerned the authorities are not acting with the necessary urgency and there appears to be no accountability from Mintails, whose main shareholders are based in the United Kingdom.  

“There seems to be a total paralysis on the part of the competent organs of state, such as the Department of Water and Sanitation, the National Nuclear Regulator, the departments of Mineral Resources and Environmental Affairs.  I conducted site visits last week with them but nothing has happened,” she said.

Liefferink also questioned whether President Cyril Ramphosa’s big focus on economic development would be possible with a poor environmental base; water, after all, is a critical economic enabler.  “Without water, there can be no economic growth. It’s important to take cognisance of the nexus between environmental management and economic growth,” she said. – Health-e News

 

Monday, 03 June 2019 22:41

Zamas Hit West Rand Mine

Saturday Star article attached.

Financial Mail Cover Article:  May 30 – June 5 2019, attached for download.

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