Addressing waste and pollution of the past

The Federation for a Sustainable Environment is proud to announce the launch of the booklet titled “Rehabilitation of Mine Contaminated Eco-Systems. A Contribution to a Just Transition to a Low Carbon Economy to Combat Unemployment and Climate Change” by Mariette Liefferink of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE). The booklet was commissioned by the Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC) in collaboration with the Friedrick Ebert Stiftung.

This booklet makes the case for a project to address the waste and pollution legacy of mining in the Witwatersrand basin, with a clear linkage between the potential for revenue generation through materials reclamation and comprehensively addressing the entire rehabilitation challenge, with the participation of all stakeholders. It sketches the background and the extent of the challenge, the legislative and regulatory context and the imperatives for urgent action, then focuses in on the Tweelopiespruit wetlands area for a potential pilot project.

Work on pollution remediation and eco-system rehabilitation fits within the rubric of climate jobs, as it is necessary to address the growing vulnerability of communities to climate change impacts, as well as to address on-going natural resource degradation that is deepening poverty and inequality. While such work is in theory the responsibility of the mining companies involved, there has been a failure in duties of care and the urgently needed interventions require concerted action by the state, which is also necessary to realise the potential benefits for impacted communities.

Gold and uranium mining in the Witwatersrand gold fields has resulted in the contamination and destruction of wetlands, as well as negative impacts on biodiversity and on soil, groundwater and air quality, thus also exacerbating the adverse impacts of climate change. The impacts of global warming include changes in rainfall and in ambient temperature that will have an over-all negative impact on subsistence activities and commercial agriculture, as well as on biodiversity and the health of river systems.

If no measures are taken in the short term to help communities to adapt, poverty and vulnerability to climate change will be increased and the prospects for future generations will be further compromised. The extractives sector can – if responsibly managed – mitigate these impacts it had on natural systems and resources, and contribute to economic growth and development by developing and implementing programs for the remediation of contaminated wetlands, eco-systems, receptor dams and rivers. The potential to recover metals during rehabilitation and use the revenues generated to contribute to the costs of clean-up are recognized by the mining industry. [1]

After reclamation of metals, the residue can be disposed of in an operational residue dam to minimise any further impacts.

Establishment of the link between extractive industries, their impacts, and climate change, should serve as motivation for eco-system rehabilitation with tangible socio-economic benefits for local communities, during and after mine closure. Government exercising its responsibilities for addressing mining legacy wastes and continuing acid mine drainage, while holding the private sector accountable, offers an important opportunity for participatory development that would alleviate poverty and reduce vulnerability not only in the short term, but into the future.

Kindly confirm your attendance or interest by e-mailing:

Richard Worthington at or Anna Bucher at or Mariette Liefferink at


[1] CF Human, JC Botha. Revenue Generation during Rehabilitation of Contaminated Land on Gold Mines in South Africa. Mine Closure 2008.

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