‘Ex-retirement village’ built on dangerous mining land’
“Congratulations! You have just invested in the West Rand’s Premier Lifestyle Estate. Every effort has been made to provide you with the services, facilities and care expected of such a prestigious development.”
But, despite this advert, not one buyer would ever occupy the luxurious Amberfield Retirement Village. And today, the multimillion-rand property, funded by Standard Bank, and built on potentially dangerous mining land in Randfontein, lies abandoned, with a ghostly silence settling over its Tuscan facades.
Several years ago, its developers were sequestrated because of financial woes caused by the global economic recession, and environmental activists started to sound the alarm about the estate’s potentially hazardous location – built within 500 m of a toxic mine dump – and prone to subsidence and air pollution.
In 2011, the Gauteng Department of Mineral Resources warned developers that the property constituted previously proclaimed mining land and was undermined to a depth of 200m below the surface. The land, it said, might be liable to subsidence, settlement, shock and cracking “due to mining operations past, present and future.”
But Mogale City Municipality has new plans for the property: turning it into a social housing project – the first of its kind in the region – to provide shelter to 1 600 families “who will benefit people from the mines and surrounding communities.”
Its first phase of 770 units has been approved, with 231 targeting the primary market – those with an income below R3 500 per month. Since the project was unveiled last year, some of Amberfield’s mansions have been turned into double-story units to accommodate these families.
“This was the first social housing project launched in the West Rand by former MEC for local government and housing Ntombi Mekgwe”, says Nkosana Zali, the spokesman for the municipality. “Mogale City remains committed to sustainable and safe development while also promoting transparency to residents.”
Future property owners, he says, shall be notified in writing of the possibility that dust pollution and noise may be experienced “as a result of possible future recycling activities at the slimes dams. Any person living on the West rand is exposed to and affected by dust pollution from old mine dumps.”
The National Nuclear Regulator has “made certain measurements” and proved that the levels of dust pollution are not within dangerous levels for human living, for example, in terms of radiation risk, he reveals.
“Nearby mine dumps are in the process of being reworked and therefore the level of inconvenience posed by dust pollution should subside significantly in the near future.”
But this is not enough for Mariette Liefferink, the head of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, who believes that any residential development on the property is not only improper – but potentially dangerous.
“The two major airborne risks to the residents would have been due to airborne radon and windblown dust. To limit the risk, the Chamber of Mines uses a guideline that tailings deposits should have a 500m buffer zone surrounding it, where no human settlement is allowed.
“In the case of the Amberfield, this guideline would not have been adhered to. In the case of the new social development, this guideline will also be violated”, she says.
During the construction of Amberfield, Liefferink points out, two shafts collapsed inside the grounds of the village and one shaft outside the perimeter wall of the village caved in.
But Zali believes the subsidence remains an insignificant threat. “Underground mining in the area ceased in the 1950s or before. The design of the township also takes this into consideration in terms of the design and construction as well as carrying capacity to circumvent these aspects.
“The condition is however included in the title deeds and lease agreements for the development to inform future residents that minor damage to structures and building may be expected due to small incidences of settling of ground.”