HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - REPORT ON THE NATIONAL HEARING ON THE UNDERLYING SOCIO-ECONOMIC CHALLENGES OF MINING AFFECTED COMMUNITIES
The SAHRC launched its Report on the National Hearing on the Underlying Socio-economic Challenges of Mining-affected Communities in South Africa on the 22nd of August 2018. The FSE participated in the Hearing and many of its issues of concern are addressed in the Report. The Report may be opened here as a PDF document.
SATURDAY STAR article written by Sheree Bega - "Mintails mining site reduced to rubble"
“Look, there’s nothing left,” said the heavily armed security guard as he pointed to what remained of Mintails’ gold treatment plants, offices and adjacent infrastructure: rubble.
Read the rest of the article here.
Watch the SABC2 Mintails coverage here.
Notice of motion and affidavit issued by the FSE attached for referral.
SATURDAY STAR NEWS / 31 AUGUST 2019, 4:55PM / SHEREE BEGA
Mariette Liefferink, chief executive of the Federation for a Sustaiable Environment, has described Mintails Group’s Krugersdorp and Randfontein mining activities as one of South Africa’s ‘worst environmental catastrophes’. Picture: Boxer Ngwenya
Johannesburg - As a heavy wind blows over the West Rand, clouds of dust swirl from clusters of barren mine dumps towering over both sides of Main Reef Road, turning the skyline a ghostly white.
It’s a bleak scene that environmental justice activist Mariette Liefferink knows all too well.
“This is all Mintails’ and just look at how it’s been left,” says the chief executive of the non-profit Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE), gesturing to the unrehabilitated dumps.
She drives under a bridge, teetering over the busy road. The structure is collapsing from ongoing spillages during Mintails' operations, she says.
But after a decade of government inaction against the Mintails Group, the FSE has now turned to the courts to deal with what Liefferink describes as one of South Africa’s “worst environmental catastrophes”, left behind by the liquidated gold mining and tailings processing company that was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.
The FSE, represented by the Legal Resources Centre, has filed a landmark lawsuit against the Mintails Group, its liquidators, the ministers of Mineral Resources, Water and Sanitation, Trade and Industry, and Environmental Affairs as well as Mogale City local municipality in the North Gauteng High Court. In total, 34 respondents are cited in the litigation which seeks criminal charges against the firm's directors.
In her founding affidavit, Liefferink warns how the mining activities of the “chronically poorly managed” firm spanning Krugersdorp and Randfontein will have “catastrophic consequences” for taxpayers, future generations, the natural environment and human health".
Mintails applied for business rescue in October 2015, but was liquidated in September last year.
It has an unfunded environmental liability of R485million, but only around R25m financial provision in its environmental rehabilitation funds.
This will now be “externalised to the state, neighbouring mines, a mute environment, financially beleaguered local municipalities and communities characterised by widespread poverty and future generations”, reads her founding affidavit.
“The overall tab will be picked up by overburdened taxpayers who have little say in the ongoing corporate malevolence of the group.”
Liefferink details the firm’s “wholesale neglect” of its environmental responsibilities. This includes the “widespread abandoning of overseeing adequate and sufficient monitoring, mitigation, preservation, oversight, planning, and concurrent rehabilitation as part of their overall mining activities”.
It reclaimed only the profitable sections of the dumps, failing to rehabilitate any footprints.
“The Mintails Group have failed to complete the mining, removed the underground pillars (containing residual gold), failed to backfill and rehabilitate open pits and failed to secure the sites.
“Several polluted highly contaminated dams and open pits are easily accessible to school children, churchgoers and community members. These dams are toxic and potentially radioactive.
“I've witnessed churchgoers being baptised in these toxic swell pools and children swimming in them on hot summer days. Certain people have died - the mining area is open and an exceptionally dangerous area to be in.”
There is no signage, walling, fencing or lighting on the mined-out land and there has been "sporadic” dust control.
Polluted water from unrehabilated footprints and dumps has not been captured in lined pollution control dams. “The (firm’s) footprint has had a profound impact on surrounding wetlands as well as the catchment area. There have been ongoing spillages of acid mine drainage water and slurry, which has allowed acid mine water to seep from cracks in the pollution control dams into rivers and surrounding wetlands.
"There has been inadequate maintenance of the pipes and pollution control dams by the Mintails Group,” the affidavit reads.
Wetlands have become “potentially radioactive toxic dump lands” and the applicable mining area is now “ecologically dead”.
In 2009, the former Department of Water Affairs and the National Nuclear Regulator flagged Mintails for allowing acutely toxic water and slimes to migrate to the wetlands downstream of Lancaster Dam, part of the Wonderfonteinspruit catchment, the richest gold mining area in the world.
“The Wonderfonteinspruit is used for irrigation, watering of cattle, baptisms, recreational use, domestic use and at times for drinking purposes. It flows downstream into the Boskop Dam, supplying water to 400 000 people in Potchefstroom," the affidavit reads. "That Lancaster Dam has been allowed to deteriorate in the manner it has by the Mintails operation presents a direct risk to life and limb.”
But the relevant state departments failed to enforce legally binding conditions for the firm’s mining and environmental reports.
The Department of Mineral Resources should never have afforded the firm the right to operate without the necessary financial provisions.
“The Mintails Group has over the years argued it will ‘top up’ the financial provisions during the life of mine. It was on this basis that the Mintails Group were granted certain mining rights The financial provision has not materialised at all and if any, the areas has been wholly unrehabilitated.”
The FSE wants the court to order the various ministers to remediate and rehabilitate the environment by enforcing current directives and compliance notices against the directors and to “recover” funds from them to clean up degraded sites.
“Some subsidiaries have ‘shifted’ assets and liabilities between subsidiaries. This includes shifting a mining right (asset) to one subsidiary, whereas the environmental liability associated with the activities of the mining right has been shifted to another subsidiary with the entity holding the liability falling under business rescue and liquidation,” the affidavit states.
“It needs to be investigated whether the dispositions in the Mintails Group, specific to shifting assets and liabilities and ‘moving’ an environmental liability in the region of hundreds of millions of rands, was done for value and whether this was done fraudulently, alternatively recklessly and further alternatively with an intent to defraud creditors."
Liefferink details how the FSE has “literally begged” government departments to take action, “tirelessly submitting report after report” and conducting “well over 1 000” physical site inspections, to no avail.
“Despite issuing numerous pre-directives and directives and despite the FSE laying criminal charges (in 2014 against Mintails for non-compliance) the group and its board of directors in particular, have been allowed to carry on with business as usual.
“Without the relief sought, none of the roleplayers will even attempt to remediate and/or rehabilitate the environment. The sequence of events has been to to pass the buck, blame other departments and obfuscate.”
The state must “immediately do all things necessary, to cordon off affected mining areas and (ensure) safety mechanisms be adopted to safeguard the general public”.
“Indeed,” warns Liefferink, “people have already died and there exists an ongoing risk of poor public health, environmental catastrophe and even death regarding the areas and activities referred to, to the broader public.”
The Ministers of Minerals and Energy, Human Settlement, Water and Sanitation and the latter department's deputy director general have indicated their intention to oppose the matter.
Liefferink says the FSE's application is vital to address the governance of a company, “when the main benefactors of mining activities sit overseas and whereas the devastating consequences of their corporate greed is left to the poorest of the poor and overburdened taxpayers where the state has to intervene to prevent further degradation.
“The directors of Mintails need to be interrogated for their involvement in one of the country’s worst environmental catastrophes and to account to the public for their corporate decisions.”
Photographs of FSE's tour of the West rand gold field on the 31st of August 2019 with Law Faculty students (LLB & LLM) of the University of Pretoria and Senior Lecturer Melanie Murcott.
All photographs taken by Melanie Murcott.
Comments attached for download.
Background information document for coal, pseudocoal & torbornite mining right application, integrated water use license application and environmental authorisation, all portions (excluding portion 46, 74,& 90) of the farm Tenbosch 162 JU, all portions (excluding portion 01) of the farm Vyeboom 414 JU, all portions of the farm Turfbult 593 JU and all portions of the farm Tecklenburg's Ranch 548 JU, in the Magisterial district of Barberton, Mpumalanga Province.
Document attached for download.
The Draft Scoping Report is attached for download.
Attached is a document compiled by the FSE for the Environmental authorisation process for the Middlevlei mine, Randfontein.
The following related articles are attached:
Jozi Gold - a story of wealth, greed and poisonous mountains. Johannesburg has produced a third of all gold mined in history. Now the gold is running out, the mines are falling apart and toxic waste turns water into poison. Former Jehovah’s Witness Mariette Liefferink is on a mission to force the mine bosses to clean up.
Directors Fredrik Gertten and Sylvia Vollenhoven, based on an original story by Adam Welz.
Official trailer with English titles.
The Federation for a Sustainable Environment with its close links to the communities, has aided the IARC to identify barber shops in each ward serving local customers of both sexes (except in Azaadville, where the chosen barber turned out to serve only men) and to collect 1600 samples of human hair.
The IARC has launched the results on its website. View them here.
The full report is attached for download.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE AVAILABLE HERE.
Documentary Jozi Gold had its world premiere at the 21st Encounters South African International Documentary Festival this week, and some of what it revealed about mining pollution is truly shocking. Grethe Kemp reviews the film.
Directors: Sylvia Vollenhoven, Fredrik Gertten
Johannesburg is the most uranium contaminated city on Earth.
These and other shocking truths are revealed in new documentary Jozi Gold directed by South African writer, award-winning journalist, playwright and film maker Sylvia Vollenhoven and award-winning Swedish director and journalist Fredrik Gertten.
By focusing on the dogged efforts of environmental activist Mariette Liefferink, we are shown how Johannesburg’s mines have contaminated virtually everything in our city – from the water, to the air, to the ground.
While some communities live on radioactive land, others struggle with water laden with heavy metals.
But all of us – yes, every single Joburger – is affected by the mining fall-out in some way. The problem is that we don’t even fully know what it’s doing to us.
Liefferink herself is the kind of subject film makers dream of. The documentary’s opening shot sees her traipsing around an excavated field in sky-high heels, dressed to a tee in black tights, an orange blazer and plenty of jewellery.
A soft-spoken tannie with a clipped Afrikaans accent and coiffed blonde hair, she tells us later that she used to be a Jehovah’s Witness, so she’s used to be being “severely disliked”.
And dislike is a feeling she must drum up, as she chases down the CEOs of mining companies and holds the government department officials to account for exposing people to hazardous mining pollution.
Liefferink says she sees herself as a marathon runner instead of a sprinter, because her work requires a great deal of stamina.
In one scene, we watch her patiently phone a government department to lay a complaint about the discharge of untreated mine water into a river system.
It’s the 10th time she’s phoning, and she’s again sent from pillar to post.
She hangs up cordially, then blinks away tears.
But hounding the government officials – too often unsuccessfully – is not her primary work.
Liefferink believes that environmental and social justice are inextricably linked, and she works with communities to hold mining companies to account.
In one case, she laid a criminal complaint at the local police against the former owner of the Blyvoor mine, for numerous environmental infractions committed between 2008 and this year.
She didn’t think anything would come of it, but to her surprise, the state decided to prosecute the mining directors responsible.
It’s a huge victory for the Blyvoor community, which has been dealing with the effects of mining pollution for years.
A third of all the gold in human history was mined in Johannesburg, and it was what gave birth to the city.
But now we’re dealing with an environmental crisis that few of us even know the extent of.
Jozi Gold is a superbly shot documentary that we should all see. And Mariette Liefferink is someone who we should all know about, and support.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE AVAILABLE HERE.