Mining Operations Impacting Clean Water Access

Mining Operations Impacting Clean Water Access

Bench Marks Foundation and WaterCAN Urges Enforcement and Support for Affected Communities

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The state of water resources in South Africa due to mining operations has raised significant concerns regarding the enforcement of regulations and the support for communities affected by these activities. “As a result, the path to clean drinking water as a human right is even further away for many South Africans,” says Dr Ferrial Adam, Executive Manager of WaterCAN.

Marikana, a mining community situated in the Bojanala district within the North West province, bears the scars of extensive mining operations, ranging from opencast to deep underground mines. “Opencast mining necessitates the pumping out of water to lower the water table, a practice used by Tharisa mine, which pumps extracted water into an old Aquarius Platinum Mine shaft, purporting it as a solution to the region’s water challenges,” explained Mr David van Wyk, a researcher at the Bench Marks Foundation.

The water from this source is subsequently extracted through boreholes and supplied to the community via water tanks as drinking water as a cost-effective alternative to utilising properly treated water from Magalies Water, the supplier for the Bojanala District. However, the community has long voiced grievances regarding the substandard quality of the water supplied.

Water samples tested by the Rustenburg municipality revealed alarming levels of contaminants, including cadmium, aluminium, lead, manganese, copper, magnesium, iron, and nitrate, far exceeding acceptable limits. The total dissolved solids level of 2490 surpasses safe drinking water thresholds fivefold, posing severe health risks to the community. Risks include cancer, neurological disorders, cardiovascular diseases, and infant mortality.

Recent events have escalated tensions between the mine and the community, and as a result Tharisa Mine has resorted to legal tactics to silence the community. “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) suits have been filed against community activists speaking out about water pollution and advocating for their constitutional right to access clean drinking water. It is deeply concerning that instead of addressing the pollution caused by their operations, the mine is using legal means to suppress community voices and evade accountability.” says Van Wyk.

In response to mounting pressure, Tharisa Mine convened a meeting on February 29, 2024, involving mine personnel, local councilors, and community representatives. It was agreed that immediate action must be taken to cease the supply of inadequately treated water to the community. The mine has committed to addressing the issue, although this was met with skepticism from affected residents.

“WaterCAN stands in solidarity with the affected communities in Marikana and calls for swift and transparent actions from all stakeholders to rectify this dire situation. Access to clean water is not a privilege, but a fundamental human right that must be safeguarded for all. People’s lives are at risk from drinking possible contaminated water, and this must be addressed with urgency,” Dr Adam said.

About WaterCAN:
WaterCAN is a dedicated environmental organisation committed to preserving and protecting South Africa’s water resources. With a mission to promote responsible water management and raise awareness about water quality, the organisation empowers communities to become proactive stewards of their local water sources. If you would like to support our work, kindly Donate Here.

About Bench Marks Foundation:
The Bench Marks Foundation (BMF) is the eminent organisation monitoring corporations on their economic, social and environmental practices. Within its work the Bench Marks Foundation puts a strong focus on supporting people in mining affected communities to successfully defend their human rights and fight for social and economic justice.