Slime spill at Blyvoor within days of takeover

Within days of Blyvoor Gold Mine’s new owner taking over the mine, a mine sludge spillage polluted the environment with some of the toxic waste spilling into the Wonderfonteinspruit. Problems at Blyvoor started in August last year when the mine’s previous owner, the company Village Main Reef, also known as Village, indicated that it will not take responsibility for the mine’s losses anymore. In the meantime, DRDGold, the company which had owned Blyvoor before, also indicated that it does not want anything to do with the mine.

As a result of these squabbles the mine was placed under provisional liquidation in order to see whether the mine or some of its assets could not be sold. It recently seemed as though the problems at Blyvoor may be a thing of the past after a new company, Goldrich Holdings, indicated that it wanted to buy the mine. Allegations, however, soon came to light after Goldrich failed to pay money for the mine by deadlines. ‘Two weeks ago the company even had to get a court order to get back onto the mine’s property.
It also came to light that Goldrich had close ties with the ill-fated Aurora Empowerment Systems, which was liquidated in 2011 after the botched takeover of two Pamodzi Gold Mines. Environmentalists, in particular, were afraid that the problems at Pamodzi, which included the mine being stripped without any respect for the effect on the environment and workers, might also, occur at Blyvoor. Although one of the ‘provisional liquidators appointed for Blyvoor, Mr Leigh Roering, indicated that the controversial buyers assured Liquidators “that they wanted to redeem themselves at Blyvoor”, environmentalists and other concerned parties voiced their concern over the transaction.
On Friday, January 31, Roering said that the mine had indeed been handed over to Goldrich the previous day after they paid the money that was still outstanding.
On Monday, however, Roering as well as representatives of government departments that are supposed to regulate Goldrich’s compliance to environmental legislation again met with environmentalists and representatives of other mines and other affected people and organisations.
That same afternoon, mine tailings from Blyvoor washed into the Wonderfonteinspruit and adjacent areas after heavy rain. By Tuesday morning some of the toxic sludge could still be seen on the side of the P11-road.
“We had expected this to happen as there is no guarantee that Goldrich can look after its environmental obligations. We do not think that the company has the technical skill, financial resources or knowledge to ensure that the environment is not damaged,” the well-known environmentalist, Ms Mariette Liefferink, told the Herald on Tuesday. She indicated that environmentalists were also very concerned about the fact that although there is legislation in place to protect the environment, the government departments that can do something about the sale and the environmental issues are often not applying it. A main concern is also that if Goldrich is allowed to continue mining at Blyvoor, it might strip the mine of all valuables and leave, only to claim later that it does not have the money to repair the damage it did. Environmentalists feared that if Goldrich was to be left to continue mining for the sake of preserving a few jobs, thousands of other people might end up suffering due to the environmental problems it leaves behind.
For this reason another meeting has been scheduled for Monday to discuss a way out of the problems.
In the mean time no response on questions sent about Monday’s slime spillage were received from Goldrich’s CEO, Mr Bongmkost Mthethwa, nor Mr Bashan Govender of the Department of Water Affairs. Mr Roering however indicated that, although the mine has been handed over to Goldrich, he would see what could be done about the matter.
The Herald reported on similar spillages at Blyvoor in the past. After the last time they had a similar problem, which occurred in 2011, Blyvoor’s then owner DRDGOLD indicated that various steps have been taken to ensure that such problems do not happen again. These included the construction of two large dams to contain spillage; the installation of piping with a high density polyethylene lining to reduce the risk and impact of pipe-bursts and the construction of containment walls along portions of the P11 road between Carletonville and Potchefstroom.
They were this week unsure of what had happened to these precautionary structures. “Environmental management entails lots of management and maintenance. The fact that such a spillage could occur again, shows that it was not done at Blyvoor,” Liefferink indicated.
Other environmentalists warned that the fact that Goldrich might not have the means to do such maintenance can have huge consequences for the Carletonville area. If the slime dams at the mine, for instance, are not maintained, they might become unstable, which can lead to them failing in a similar fashion as during the Merriespuit Disaster in 1994 when 17 people were killed.

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