Jagersfontein mine owner must be held to account

Jagersfontein

Jagersfontein mine owner must be held to account

The collapse of the mine’s dam wall shows what mines get away with when government fails to provide oversight

Image: Picture Twitter/@NationalCoGTA

WaterCAN an initiative of OUTA (Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse), demands that the company which owns the Jagersfontein mine be held responsible for the loss of lives, the injuries and damage resulting from the horrifying collapse of the mine dam wall on Sunday.

The collapse of the dam wall is a symptom of the government’s ongoing failure to hold mining companies accountable for their actions before, during and after mining operations. Mining operations in South Africa have had a negative impact on the people and communities living close to or downwind of these operations and on the environment.

The recent gang rapes of young women in Krugersdorp on an abandoned mine is also due to government failing in its duty to force the mining company to clean up after closure, properly cordon off the area to limit access and rehabilitate the property.

The response to acid mine drainage across the province has been too slow, resulting in toxic substances flowing into our rivers, streams and groundwater. In a recent study, high concentrations of toxic acid mine drainage have been found in the Krugersdorp Game Reserve.

“The lack of enforcement of basic laws means that mines have been able to get away with murder,” says Dr Ferrial Adam, WaterCAN Manager.

In Gauteng alone, there are more than 270 tailings dams in the Witwatersrand Basin that are reportedly mostly unlined and many not vegetated, providing a source of extensive dust, as well as pollution of soil, surface water and groundwater. (FORESEEABLE IMPACTS (pmg.org.za)). The dust and water from the tailings waste contain chemicals, minerals and heavy metals that are poisonous, such as arsenic, cyanide, mercury, lead and uranium.

The damage caused by the collapse of the Grootvlei gold mine in Springs is another example of government’s failure to hold mining companies to account or to defend either the mine employees or the environment, particularly when the owners are politically connected. Since February 2017, OUTA has lobbied for the directors of Aurora Empowerment Systems to be prosecuted for the environmental damage caused while Aurora owned Grootvlei. After years of lobbying, a prosecution was initiated in September 2018 but in February 2020 the case was withdrawn without clear explanation. For more on this, see here.

Water pollution from mine waste rock and tailings might need to be managed for decades, if not centuries, after a mine’s closure. In South Africa in general, and Gauteng in particular, there is a lack of responsible closure and thousands of abandoned mines are the norm. A study in 2017 by the Bench Marks Foundation found that there are 6 000 ownerless, derelict and abandoned mines nationwide including about 600 in Gauteng alone.

WaterCAN also questions what has happened to the funds which mining companies are required to lodge to cover the cost of rehabilitating the properties after mining ends. These funds are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, but we see no signs of these being used.

The mining sector has a social and environmental responsibility to ensure the safety of the communities near mines, whether working or abandoned, and government an obligation to be proactive in enforcing laws to hold mining companies to account. We must not wait for more disasters and loss of lives and livelihoods. Urgent action is needed now.

 

WaterCAN is an initiative of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) which focuses on watching over water resources and holding authorities to account.

Soundclip from Dr Ferrial Adam available here.

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