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Access to water is a hot topic in South Africa - and a growing number of countries hit by climate change, burgeoning populations and poor governance
By Kim Harrisberg
Faeces in the kitchen: South Africans call for better sewage systems
Thursday, 21 March 2019 07:59 GMT
JOHANNESBURG, March 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Raw excrement, condoms and sanitary products regularly spill into homes and parks, South Africans said ahead of Friday's World Water Day - just some of about 4.5 billion people globally without safe sanitation, promised for all by 2030.
Residents are lobbying for urgent rehabilitation of sewage works by South Africa's Department of Water and Sanitation, widely criticised for lack of investment, non-payment of contractors, poor revenue collection, water theft and leakage.
"We have had water flowing into our street and home for the last three years," Heather Crosley, who lives in South Africa's biggest city, Johannesburg, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"When it rains heavily, the manhole lids blows off; sewage rushes down the road and sometimes comes into our kitchen. We have found condoms, tampons and faeces in our kitchen on more than one occasion."
Under global development goals agreed in 2015, governments pledged to provide access to water and sanitation for all by 2030. But three in 10 people worldwide do not have a water source free from faecal and chemical contamination.
The spokesman for the water department, Sputnik Ratau, said setting up an independent regulator to improve management was "paramount", although he did not have a specific timeline.
"The Ministry and Department are seized with the work of ensuring this comes to pass," he said.
Access to water is a hot topic in South Africa - and a growing number of countries hit by climate change, burgeoning populations and poor governance - as drought last year triggered warnings that Cape Town's taps could run dry.
In Johannesburg's Soweto township, residents often see untreated waste water and excrement flow into tributaries that lead to the Vaal River, one of the country's main water sources.
"In Snake Park, sewage is currently flowing into a community-built park so the children have nowhere safe to play," said community activist Tiny Dlamini.
Untreated water can cause diarrhea and cholera, which can be fatal, particularly for children.
About 56 percent of South Africa's waste water treatment works are in a poor or critical state, said Mariette Liefferink, head of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, which campaigns against water pollution caused by mining.
"This is a perfect storm of mismanagement that currently impacts 14 million South Africans without access to decent sanitation," said Christine Colvin, a water expert with the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa.
(Reporting by Kim Harrisberg @kimharrisberg, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org
The document is attached for download.
The FSE is in possession of the subjoined presentations and supporting documentation pertaining to the Gauteng EIA Sector Stakeholder Seminar, which the FSE will forward on request.
The FSE’s presentation is attached hereto.
These documents include:
1. EAPASA and
2. The Federation for a Sustainable Environment.
The FSE is a member of the Department of Water and Sanitation’s Steering Committee for the Continuation of the Integrated Vaal River System reconciliation Strategy Study – Phase 2 and participated in the 2nd SCC which was held on the 13th of February, 2019.
The Agenda included the following Items:
i. Eradication of Unlawful Irrigation
ii. DWS Water Management Plans
iii. Implementation of LHWP Phase 2
iv. Noordoewer/Vioolsdrift Dam Feasibility Study
v. Water Quality Management
4. Water Balance Status
The FSE will supply the above-mentioned presentations on request.
Click on the issues below to view FSE's articles in Spilpunt magazine.
(credit to Spilpunt magazine)
The FSE's comments on the Department of Environmental Affairs' Multi-Stakeholder Workshop - Dust Management Strategy is attached for download.
The FSE Integrated Annual Report is attached for download.
A Battle to Hold Mining Company Accountable
Mintails left behind a R460 million ‘environmental mess’
Saturday Star | 23 Feb 2019 | SHEREE BEGA
MINTAILS, a gold mining company on the West Rand, has long been red-flagged for causing environmental damage at its operations. | BHEKIKHAYA MABASO African News Agency (ANA)
MARIETTE Liefferink toys absently with the faux gold necklace coiled tightly around her neck like a scarf.
“Perhaps, if people ask me, I can say we can all look pretty with imitation gold,” she says, flashing a smile.
The 65-year-old mining activist does not wear real gold – and she never will. The reason lies all around her here on the polluted gold fields of the West Rand.
Today, the chief executive of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE) is showing the R460 million environmental “mess” left behind by Mintails, a liquidated gold mining and tailings processing company listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.
She gestures to a cluster of unrehabilitated mine dumps on Main Reef Road. “At all their sites, there’s no access control, no stormwater and dust control or any other mitigation or management of the dumps and tailings storage facilities. This has created opportunities for zama zamas to conduct their mining operations.”
For the past 12 years, Liefferink’s quest has been to obtain “justice for communities, future generations and the mute receiving environment” affected by Mintails expansive operations stretching across Krugersdorp and Randfontein.
She has spent hundreds of hours compiling complaints and requests to authorities for investigations and enforcement, lodging Promotion of Access to Information Act requests and analysing water quality results.
The embattled firm applied for business rescue in October 2015, but was liquidated in September last year. It has an unfunded environmental liability of R485 million, but only around R25 million financial provision in its environmental rehabilitation funds.
The “delinquency”, argues Liefferink, is not only on the part of the firm and its directors but also the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) and the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) for their non-enforcement of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), National Water Act and the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA).
“The DMR, as well as the DWS, allowed Mintails to operate from 2012 to 2018 without a mining right, an approved environmental management programme report and financial provisions.”
While the DMR and DWS issued the company with several pre-directives and directives for non-compliance since 2013, these were not enforced.
“This resulted in this unfunded environmental liability of R460 million, clusters of open pits of 40m deep, partially reclaimed tailings storage facilities, unrehabilitated footprints and toxic and radioactive dams.”
Last week, the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), which represents the FSE, sent a final letter of demand to the DMR and DWS, to urgently intervene in addressing Mintails’ pollution. If the departments did not adequately respond by yesterday, the matter will head to court imminently.
The letter states that the DMR and DWS must enforce their directives as a matter of urgency and provide a date by when compliance must be achieved by the liquidators and directors.
“The DWS, the Mintails Group and their violations was an agenda item on every Wonderfonteinspruit catchment management forum meeting with minutes taken. No action was taken by DWS,” states Lucien Limacher, the acting regional director of the LRC, in the letter.
The letter demands that the DMR and the DWS must issue new directives to the liquidators and directors of Mintails to start remedial action and “contain the toxic sludge that is currently polluting and degrading the environment as a matter of urgency”. Further damage is allegedly being caused by continuing open pit mining.
The DMR “must take reasonable measures to remedy the situation” or apply to a competent court should the Mintails Group not comply or inadequately comply with the directives.
“Should the Mintails Group not comply with the directives, in terms of NEMA, the DMR (must) issue an ex parte application against the Mintails Group to attach and seize property and cover the expenses of the rehabilitation in terms of section 45 of the MPRDA.”
The letter also states how the DMR and the Commission and Intellectual Property Commission “must hold accountable the directors of Mintails for the rehabilitation infringements by bringing a delinquency application” under the Companies Act.
“The directors have grossly abused the position of director, intentionally or negligently, inflicted harm upon the company and the subsidiaries, acted in a manner that amounted to gross negligence and have repeatedly been personally subject to directives from the DMR and DWS.”
In November, a report by the Parliamentary portfolio committee on mineral resources stated how the DMR had failed to ensure Mintails had made the required provision to repair over R300m of environmental damage. The report was sparked by a probe into Mintails collapse by investigative environmental journalism unit, Oxpeckers.
“The committee is often confronted by instances of the devastation caused by careless mining where the DMR says it is a state liability because no one can be found to take responsibility.
“In the case of the Mintails operation, this mine went into business rescue in 2015, at a time when the mining company had an unfunded environmental liability of over R300m. It had saved barely R20m for all its responsibilities.”
The committee’s report noted how Mintails disputed its environmental liability, employing consultants who offered estimates far lower than those of the DMR.
The National Nuclear Regulator (NNR), which conducted a site visit in December as the waste had a “radioactive/nuclear element, according to the FSE, says an internal process is under way.
“You can rest assured that the NNR will play its regulatory role and discharge its responsibilities in accordance with its mandate regarding this matter,” it says.
Sputnik Ratau, spokesperson for the DWS, explains how it issued Mintails with a pre-directive in November 2017. “This required Mintails to cease the seepage of Lancaster Dam wall, clean historic spillages along the reclamation pipeline, rehabilitate the wetlands in the proximity of its tailing storage facility and address inadequate stormwater management.”
But the Mintails response to the pre-directive was “deemed unsatisfactory” by the DWS in a letter dated June 28 2018.” The firm then submitted a detailed implementation plan to curb the pollution to the DWS on July 2.
However, when Mintails was placed under provisional liquidation in August last year, this “derailed all the progress that was achieved through the pre-directive process”.
The DWS is now seeking legal advice internally. “Does the issued pre-directive and commitment made by Mintails carry over to the liquidators, directors and business rescue practitioner? Are the directors and business rescue practitioner legally obliged to comply to the issued pre-directive and implementation plan submitted by Mintails?
“Are the liquidators legally obligated to deal with operational issues such as a directive and pollution considering that they are appointed for a limited period to collect all the assets of the mine to settle the claims of its creditors and distribute any of the remainder of the assets to the shareholders of the mine.”
The DWS was previously advised in a similar case that it is not the duty of liquidators to manage the day to day business. “Their objective is to realise assets on behalf of creditors. As such, liquidators cannot be directed to manage pollution.”
Liefferink worries about impunity. “It would appear when a mining company is in business rescue or liquidation, then the directors and liquidators have no duty of care and simply walk away. The environment, future generations and communities must carry the impact, as in the case of Blyvoor and Aurora. That is totally contrary to the polluter pays principle.”
Ratau says the DWS would conduct a site investigation with the liquidators yesterday to “verify the allegations of pollution”.
The mandate of rehabilitation rests with the DMR. “However, DWS is engaging the DMR to ensure that water resources are protected.”
The Legal Resources Centre, which represents the FSE, sent a final letter of demand to the Department of Mineral Resources and the Department of Water and Sanitation, on the 14th of February, 2019 to urgently intervene in addressing Mintails’ pollution. If the departments do not adequately respond by the 22nd of February, 2019, the FSE shall proceed to initiate legal action.
Letter of demand and annexures attached for download.
New blow for would-be Mpumalanga coal miner
29 January 2019 | By John Yeld
Surprise move by MEC for Environmental Affairs Vusi Shongwe
A new blow has been dealt to attempts to open a coal mine in protected Mpumalanga grasslands. Photo: supplied
A surprise, flip-flop decision by Mpumalanga MEC for Environmental Affairs Vusi Shongwe has delivered another blow to an Indian mining company trying to establish a huge new coal mine in a critical water catchment area.
Shongwe’s decision has reignited a vicious Twitter exchange about the proposed mine.
Atha-Africa Ventures, a local subsidiary of India-based transnational mining and minerals company Atha Group, is attempting to develop the Yzermyn coal mine, an underground mine with a projected 15-year-lifespan that lies within the Mabola Protected Environment (MPE).
The MPE was proclaimed in January 2014 to help protect a strategic water catchment and crucial biodiversity area of the highly threatened Mpumalanga grasslands and wetlands.
In November last year, during a legal challenge to the mine, Shongwe suddenly published a Notice of Intention in the Provincial Gazette to exclude three of the properties that make up the proposed coal mine from the protected environment – a move that would have effectively paved the way for mining.
In an affidavit, Shongwe explained that he had been approached during March 2018 by members of the local community with a request to exclude the protected properties.
But in mid-December – and equally unexpectedly – Shongwe signed a new notice to withdraw his original Notice of Intention, with no reasons being given for his change of heart. That decision was published in the Provincial Gazette on 25 January.
The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) had filed a 22-page objection to the proposed excision of the coal mining properties from the MPE, pointing out that Shongwe’s plan was to facilitate the development of the proposed Yzermyn coal mine.
The CER said that, as part of his initial rationale for wanting to excise the properties from the protected area, Shongwe had included a memorandum dated 6 March 2018 from a Volksrust-based civic organisation, the Voice Community Representative Council, that purported to represent the majority of people living in the Dr Pixley Ka Isaka Seme Municipality.
The memorandum, that had raised “serious concerns” about declaring the Mabola Protected Environment, had been accompanied by a petition signed by some 8,500 community members, Shongwe said.
However, the CER pointed out in its objection that the petition was dated 30 August 2013, and had been submitted to then environment MEC “Pinky” Phosa when she was considering declaring the Mabola Protected Environment. “The Petition is of little, if any, relevance to the Exclusion Notice presently before the Honourable MEC [Shongwe],” the CER argued.
Responding to an invitation by GroundUp to comment, Atha-Africa said it had not made any representations on Shongwe’s original Notice of Intention and did not have any comment on the matter.
“Atha is aware that the community of Dr Pixley Ka Isaka Seme opposed the declaration of the Mabola Protected Environment in 2014 and a petition was signed by over 9,000 community members against the declaration. Only the local community can comment if this latest decision to withdraw the notice of intention to exclude properties from Mabola Protected Environment has the community’s buy-in or not,” the company said.
However, that careful response was in sharp contrast to what transpired on Twitter.
Environmental journalist Elise Tempelhoff posed a question to Atha-Africa senior vice-president Praveer Tripathi on Twitter, asking whether Shongwe’s latest decision meant that Atha-Africa had now “given up” on Mabola.
The head of the Voice Community Representative Council, Thabiso Nene, who tweets as @madlokovu15, jumped in with a reply, labelling Tempelhoff’s question “disgusting”.
In a second tweet to Tempelhoff, Nene said:
“Fun hw u have been absent when community was rejecting CER [Centre for Environmental Rights]. Bt not surprise yo kind tell the story of the elite. Watch the next move of the community. We will not rest till we have our democratic way. Even if Atha give up, community will not quite [quit].”
Both Nene’s tweets also tagged Tripathi, who has waged a bitter Twitter war against opponents of Atha-Africa’s proposed coal mine but who insists that his tweets reflect his personal views and not his company’s.
Tripathi tweeted several times, tagging both Tempelhoff and Nene. One of his Tweets reads:
“If the community gives up it would mean that a handful of foreign funded anti-development anti-people CSO’s [Civil Society Organisations] with media in their support can stop any development and employment with their slick lies. Their tactics are abominable but what’s more sick is that media can’t see it.”
In other tweets, he makes new derogatory and defamatory remarks about the CER, which is representing the eight members of a Coalition opposing development of the proposed coal mine. This was despite Tripathi telling the Minerals Council of South Africa (formerly the Chamber of Mines) – in response to a formal complaint to the council by the CER – last year that he would be “more sensitive” in his social media comments about those opposing his company’s attempt to mine coal at Yzermyn.
This Economic Impact Assessment Report is one of the additional specialist studies requested by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) in 2018 for the Basic Assessment Report (BAR) process being conducted for the Tja Naledi Barrage Sand Mine, located along the banks of the Vaal River, on the northern boundary of the Ngwanthe Local Municipality in the Fezile Dabi Magisterial district, Free State Province.
While it has not been possible to undertake a strategic economic assessment of suitable land use developments for this area (as requested by the local Federation for Sustainable Environment (FSE) during the assessment process), this Economic Impact Assessment has gone beyond the normal scope of assessing the positive economic impacts of the proposed mining amendment, and considered the negative economic impacts.
The Report concluded:
“Our recommendation is that DMR carefully consider how they will ensure the effective management of the cumulative impacts of sand mining in this and other areas along the Vaal River. To do this, it will be necessary to develop a regional perspective on the existing sand and gravel mines as well as the applications for mining rights, and develop a regulatory strategy that can manage the number of mines in each locality and the economic impacts on other economic activities.
With respect to the current applications by Tja Naledi and Pure Source, the economic impacts of these mines on existing economic activities and the marginal economic situation for these mines, suggests that it would not be appropriate to approve these mining applications at this stage. Alternatively, they could be approved subject to the mitigation measures recommended and included in their EMPs, if and when the mine’s business financials are proven to be viable (given the broader market context) and can cover the cost of the mitigation measures that are needed to minimise the visual, noise, dust and traffic impacts. This may encourage the mining companies to look for sand mining opportunities in areas where the visual, noise, dust and traffic impacts are minor.”
The above recommendations by the independent consultants (Eviro Works) are seen by the FSE, Vaal Eden Committee as significantly supportive of its arguments that sand mining is not the best practicable environmental option for the area.
The Report is attached for download.