The case of the inactive Blyvooruitzicht (Blyvoor) gold mine, in Gauteng, highlights the need for clarity on the situation where mines are not ownerless or abandoned, but are nonetheless not operational, states the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). SAHRC research associate Angela Kariuki says that, in situations such as at Blyvoor, there is no access control, the mine is not being monitored, nor is it being effectively managed. Article based on presentations delivered at the Nuclearisation of Africa Symposium.
The SAHRC has termed this “warehousing” to describe a “temporary cessation” of unknown duration. She says that, given the economic conditions and fluctuating commodity prices, the extent to which there is an investment case to continue mining at Blyvoor could change in future. However, the SAHRC has noted that there are also companies that sometimes use warehousing as a way to entice illegal miners, commonly known as zama zamas, into their closed sites to mine for product that is no longer financially viable to mine through formal operations and then collude with the zama zamas to sell that product through illegal channels, thereby evading tax. Kariuki points out that, when ‘warehousing’ happens for longer periods, significant degradation of the environment is likely to take place and the way in which the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) regulates matters does not address this situation. She emphasises that there is a risk, and it has occurred, that, when a mine needs to undertake the steps to comply with the proper closure procedures, it will allow this “grey area” of temporary cessation to slide into a situation where it ultimately abandons its responsibilities.
“The problem with warehousing in relation to illegal mining is that it also creates an open situation where zama zamas will be free to come and go as they please,” Kariuki states. A further related issue is disused shafts and the failure to deal with waste from the mines, whether in the form of slimes dams or dust. Kariuki says that complaints have arisen because of concerns about the way in which the DMR is failing to deal with these issues. “The SAHRC recommends that the DMR look at what must be in place in relation to partial closures, [as well as] retrenchments, environmental management and post-closure remediation, and ensure a clear set of processes are enacted.”
The commission further recommends that steps be urgently taken to secure the necessary financial resources for proper closure requirements and rehabilitation, Kariuki adds. She says that these resources could be taken, or held in trust or secured in advance in some other manner, and discussions with companies in this regard should take place. These should also cover the drafting of policy prohibiting mine owners from selling off mine equipment before total closure and the relevant certificates are sought, the SAHRC says.
The SAHRC says that concurrent rehabilitation should be promoted and, to the extent that rehabilitation during mine operations is possible, this should happen. Kariuki comments that, in terms of formal mine closures, no mine’s closure can realistically be considered independently of its neighbours. “There is a need to rethink the kind of tools that are used to manage impacts across a mining area. “If a mine closes prematurely, that mine has impacts on its neighbours, and a mine cannot have a standalone closure plan,” she states. Additionally, Kariuki notes that the SAHRC recommends that regulated, integrated closure processes, including closure plans that extend across a wider geographic region, are necessary and would require the intervention of the DMR to secure coordination.
Justice for Illegal Miners
In 2012, a tunnel at the temporarily closed De Beers Bontekoe mine site, in the Northern Cape, collapsed, resulting in the deaths of several informal miners. Kariuki notes that the Kommagas local community is not yet in receipt of any conclusive information regarding the mine tunnel collapse. She says that the commission has recommended that a final and comprehensive report into this incident be made available to those communities, and a plan be put in place to deal with similar incidents that may occur elsewhere in the country. “It is not acceptable for the DMR to shirk its responsibilities in terms of carrying out this enquiry simply because the incident related to unlawful mining activities, and the community cannot continue to be fobbed off by being told that, because illegal mining is involved, all enquiries should be directed to the South African Police Service. “Whether legal or not, a mining accident requires a report into the mining-related issues,” Kariuki concludes. • Kariuki was speaking at the Nuclearisation of Africa symposium in Kempton Park last month.
EDITED BY: MARTIN ZHUWAKINYU CREAMER MEDIA SENIOR DEPUTY EDITOR
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