“WHERE there’s waste, there’s opportunity,” said mining hydrologist Kym Morton, pointing to a huddle of shacks perched on top of a mine dump in Krugersdorp.
“That bright yellow soil under the shacks is highly radioactive,” she said. “But that also means there’s a lot of valuable heavy metals in it, including gold, silver, cadmium, cobalt and uranium. Morton wants local, impoverished communities living on dangerous mining land in Gauteng to be equipped with the requisite training and skills in removing be equipped with the requisite training and skills in removing contaminated mining waste, which can then be processed.
“We can have a win-win where we turn a toxic time bomb into something that generates value. There are health and environment benefits, there’s job creation and water protection benefits, most importantly, because we’re stopping the contaminant load on the Vaal River system.”
This “Working for Waste” initiative could be fashioned along the lines of the Department of Environmental Affairs’ Working for Water programme, which has cleared 1 million hectares
of invasive alien plants, and created more than 20 000 jobs for marginalised people.
But Peter Lukey, chief policy adviser at the department, told Morton of his concern about the creation of “dangerous jobs for poor people.
“I’m concerned you’re comparing this to Working for Water. The people it employs are not dealing with a particular problem that can give them cancer and poison. We must be very careful in what models we use.”
Morton responded that there would be proper training on contaminant clean-up. The people are living on it already. I would never suggest putting anyone in a more hazardous situation than they are already. Never ever.”
Lukey said the idea was laudable and “and we have to start looking at restoration, we have to start fixing stuff up. We’ve screwed enough stuff up.
“Involving communities is fundamental to ownership.”