Government Must Respond to Acid Mine Water

Acid mine water is causing huge damage to plants, animals and the health of humans, otherwise legal steps will be taken to protect the people’s constitutional rights.

acid mine drainageA letter to this effect was addressed to ministers Susan Shabangu (Mineral Affairs) and Edna Molewa (Water and Environmental Affairs) in their capacity as co-chairs of the Inter Ministerial Committee on Acid Mine Water Drainage (IMC). Copies were dispatched to the Human Rights Commission and the Public Protector.

The letter was compiled by civil organisations, including the SAHGCA, that have an interest in the promotion of Section 24 of the Constitution and who are concerned about the flooding of the Central and the Eastern Basins of the Witwatersrand Basin as well as the increasing – volumes of uncontrolled recanting of untreated acid mine drainage (AMD) from the flooded West Rand Basin.

The IMC was established to draw up an action plan and to create a way of combating AMD from the government’s side.

Since the establishment of the IMC millions of litres were released in streams feeding the Vaal and the Crocodile Rivers, as well as in ground water systems with a devastating effect on communities and the environment. The heavy summer rainfall has exacerbated the situation leading to a quick increase in toxic water levels. Ground water levels are increasing at a rate of 40 cm per day and there is another three months of heavy rainfall ahead.

The detrimental effects of AMD involve the decreasing quality of water supply, poisoning of harvests, degradation of human health and welfare and the destruction of nature and eco systems, infrastructure and heritage sites.

That is why AMD is a significant threat to the realisation of the rights entrenched in chapter 2 of the Constitution, especially the right to health care, food and water, the right to housing, to an environment that is not detrimental to health or welfare and the right to dignity.

The organisations voice their concern over the government’s lack of transparency and consultation. To date the IMC has not made the interim or further reports of the Team of Experts (TOE) public or allowed public engagement in its meetings. Therefore, there can be no public debate on TOE’s findings and recommendations.

The IMC has failed to engage civil society which defeats finding solutions to the problem. Since its first meeting in September last year the IMC has taken no significant steps to deter the drainage of AMD into human water systems. Meanwhile the situation has been exacerbated and further delays are unacceptable.

Calls on the state to react with urgency has born no fruit, even though there are technologies in existence to combat AMD and even the government and mining companies have produced various reports on AMD.

The Federation for a Sustainable Environment and Earthlife Africa have both expressed their concern over the IMC’s expressed preference for neutralisation as a short term solution for the treatment of AMD. Neutralisation is a simplistic short term solution which will one exacerbate the problem.

The Department of Water and Environmental Affairs has taken no suitable steps to combat AMD after reports of fish deaths within the area of the Cradle of Human Kind, except to state that “the matter is still under investigation”. Mineral Resources and Water and Environmental Affairs did nothing to react efficiently to the dysfunctional Grootvlei Mine, where mine staff’s lives were endangered and huge volumes of AMD were allowed to flow into the Blesbokspruit.

The situation has been going on for months and has reached a crisis, because the AMD level is now only 60 m under the mine floor. Delays by government departments and the lack of proper departmental strategy may exacerbate the consequences of AMD.

Source: SAHGCA

The urgency of this matter has not been reflected in the government’s actions.  Acid mine water has already reached the Cradle of Mankind. Groundwater contamination can be expected, possibly even hundreds of kilometres from the Witwatersrand.  Hopefully this crisis can be resolved before people start dying from drinking contaminated water.  Rainwater harvesting may become the only safe way to obtain potable water in the region.

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