The FSE is today widely recognized as the most prominent of the environmental activist stakeholders in the mining industry - and its directors are listed as amongst the 100 most influential people in Africa’s Mining Industry (MiningMX 2012 & 2013 – “Rainmakers and Potstirrers”)
The contributions of the FSE to environmental and social justice have been recognised and its directors received a number of environmental awards since the FSE’s inauguration in 2007 inter alia
- SAB Environmentalist of the Year – Winner (2013)
- SAB Environmentalist of the Year – Merit Winner. Nick Steele Award (2012)
- Exemplary Service Award: The Federation of Southern African Flyfishers (2012)
- Winner of the Enviropaedia Eco-Warrior Award (2011)
- Habitat Council Conservation Award (Individual category) (2010)
- Environmental Award: West Rand District Municipality (2009)
- Chancellor’s Medal of the North West University on the 9th of October, 2009 for the “passionate and unselfish service to communities and for …work with regard to injustices concerning the environment.”
Mining is an important contributor to the SA economy hence it enjoys an elevated or preferential status based on perceived benefits.
South Africa’s exceptional mineralization has been an enormously influential factor in the development of the country’s political and economic institutions and the laws that underpin them. In South Africa, however, the psychological dependence on the mining industry seems to extend beyond cost/benefit, a phenomenon evidenced in the metaphors used to describe the industry’s significance. In the 1961 case of Coupen Holdings v Germiston City Council, for instance, Judge Hiemstra wrote: “This industry is the lifeblood of the country and particular solicitude for it is only natural”.
Adv. Johnny de Lange, the co-chair of the historic joint sitting of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committees on Mineral Resources, and the Environment and Water respectively, spoke of mining as the “DNA” of the South African economy and its “whole development”, as an industry that played an “absolutely central role” during apartheid and in the democratic era .
While the FSE recognises the importance of mining in South Africa, it is also sober to the fact that mining has the potential for significant negative impacts on the environment. As early as 1987, the US Environmental Protection Agency recognised that “.....problems related to mining waste may be rated as second only to global warming and stratospheric ozone depletion in terms of ecological risk. The release to the environment of mining waste can result in profound, generally irreversible destruction of ecosystems.”
The FSE therefore concurs with the statement in the recently developed National Development Programme, namely that while it is “urgent to stimulate mining investment and production” it should be done “in a way that is environmentally sound.” (Emphasis added.)
The challenge to ensure that mining is “environmentally sound” has become even more important since in a recent overview of the National Water Resource Strategy-2 (NWRS-2), Mr. Niel van Wyk of the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) stated: “Large part of future potential [of mining is] in areas of water scarcity… in some areas water is already ‘flowing’ from agriculture to mining…the biggest impact of mines is on water quality …a threat to the resource that cannot be brushed away.”
The Water Situation in South Africa
According to the National Water Resource Strategy-2 (NWRS-2) 12 out of the 19 water management areas require intervention. By 2025 all four international river basins will transition into Absolute Water Scarcity with resultant economic stagnation and potential social decay (without taking into account global climate change). To exemplify:
- The Limpopo River Basin, already over-allocated by about 120%, is facing a 241% increase in demand by 2025.
- The Vaal River System supply water to 60% of the economy and 45% of the population and to ensure that sufficient water of good quality is available to supply the future requirements of the Vaal River System the re-use of treated mine water by 2014/2015 is required.
- If AMD is not treated to a level where the salt load is removed, the Upper Vaal will go into deficit and if there is a drought, long overdue, either:
- Restrictions will be placed on consumers in the Upper Vaal; or
- The dilution standard at Vaal Barrage will be relaxed resulting in very poor quality water reaching the consumers in the Middle and Lower Vaal (KOSH area, Free State Goldmines and all the mining activity in the Northern Cape on the Vaal Gamagara Scheme)
With the Upper Vaal in deficit there would then be no possibility of transferring water into the Olifants catchment (currently possible through the VRESS) and economic- including mining activities in 6 provinces could be affected if water consumption is curtailed. The mining industry is already being constrained by shortages of water on the Eastern and Western Limbs of the Bushveld. The question needs to be asked - is it prepared to risk seriously curtailed production in the event of a drought by letting the Upper Vaal go into deficit?
Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE) | Non-profit Organisation Registration Number: 062-986-NPO | PBO File No 930 039 506