Water Sector – leadership group meeting

Ms Margaret-Ann Diedricks Director General of the Department of Water and Sanitation presented the strategic objectives for the coming 5 years and the reflection of the Water and Sanitation Summit Declaration and Outcomes.

The FSE raised some of issues, summarised as follows – 

  • The FSE is a federation of community based civil society organisations committed to the realisation of the constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to health or well-being, and to having the environment sustainably managed and protected for future generations. Their mission is specifically focussed on addressing the adverse impacts of mining and industrial activities on the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable and disadvantaged communities who live and work near South Africa’s mines and industries.
  • The FSE is a member of the Section 5 Advisory Committee of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHR) on Mining and Water.
  • The FSE is widely recognized as the most prominent of the environmental activist stakeholders in the mining industry (http://www.miningmx.com/pls/cms/mmx_rain.profile_detail?p_nid=372) and its directors are listed amongst the 100 most influential people in Africa’s Mining Industry (MiningMX 2013 – “Rainmakers and Potstirrers).
  • The FSE’s comments therefore focused on the impact of mining on South Africa’s scarce water resources.
  • While the FSE recognises that mining is an important contributor to the SA economy the FSE cautioned that mining has the potential for significant negative impacts, and profound often irreversible impacts on eco-systems and ground and surface water resources.
  • The FSE appealed to the DG that the regional impacts of a mine on the water quality and quantity ought to be assessed in the application and authorisation of the Water Use License (WUL) and that the impacts of a single mine on the water resources in the region should not assessed in isolation.
  • The FSE furthermore urged the DG that the DWS ought not to issue WULs to mining companies in highest and high biodiversity important areas, or areas such as the Olifants River System where the water demand exceeds the water supply and in freshwater eco-system priority areas e.g. in Mpumalanga and the Pilanesberg area.
  • The FSE furthermore stated that the entitlements which flow from mining are far-reaching, however, our laws make provision for balancing mechanisms. One of the most important of these balancing mechanisms is the Water Use License. The FSE therefore appealed to the DG that the National Water Act (36 of 1998) be amended to allow for compulsory public participation in the Water Use License Application since at present public participation is at the discretion of the Minister of Water Affairs.
  • The FSE furthermore requested from the DG information on the status of the Water Tribunal since it has been in abeyance for years despite the court order in which the learned judge ordered that the Water Tribunal be re-established. (We refer in this regard to the case of Exxaro v the Department of Water Affairs.)
  • The FSE requested whether the honourable Minister of DWS has signed off the Feasibility Study for the long term treatment of AMD, since in terms of the reconciliation strategy of the Vaal River system, desalination of AMD ought to commence by 2014/2015 in order to ensure water security within the Vaal River system. (The Vaal River supplies water to 60% of the economy and 45% of the population of South Africa.)

The FSE furthermore raised, inter alia, the following issues at the WSSLG meeting:

  • Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) was a recognised phenomenon since 1903 (reference: R. Scott Water Research Commission Report No 486/1/95), however, there were no pro-active management plans for the flooding of mining basins and decant put in place. While the FSE recognises the fact that the DWS is currently reacting to the AMD emergency within the Western-, Central and Eastern Basins of the Witwatersrand goldfields, the FSE appealed to the DWS to put pro-active management plans in place for the flooding and possible decant of AMD within the Far Western Basin, the KOSH basin and the Free State goldfields of the Witwatersrand.
  • The FSE called for the retrospective application of the Polluter Pays Principle in addressing the AMD issue since the NWA in Chapter 19 clearly uses retrospective language.
  • The FSE furthermore called for DWS to diligently enforce the re-occurring and continuing non-compliance by mining companies (such as e.g. Mintails SA (Pty) Ltd.) with the terms and conditions of its WUL and the NWA, and not merely to issue notices and pre-directives.
  • The FSE also called upon the DWS to assess the latent and residual impacts of a mine’s impacts on water resources, which may continue for centuries, and not merely to assess the impacts during the lifetime of the mine’s operations. These long term costs and impacts ought to be internalised and not externalised to future generations, communities and the environment.
  • The FSE requested information regarding the criteria for membership of the DWS’ Strategic Water Partners Network. The Network is represented by inter alia Anglo America, Coca-Cola, Eskom Exxaro, Nestle, SAB, Sasol and EWT and WWT as, it is assumed, the civil society representatives. It begged the question whether the Strategic Water Partners Network only includes partners who are non-critical of industry and Government, and NGOs and civil society groups that only focus on nature conservation, elevating the protection of charismatic animal and plant species or landscapes and biodiversity enhancement and not on the fundamental question of how to ensure that there is at least corporate environmental compliance with existing national norms and standards e.g. pollution and waste management.


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