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Midalore left to choke on toxic dust

Tuesday, 07 April 2015 16:46
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Residents long for wind of change, but all they get is illness every time a hazardous cocktail blows into town.

MARY Roets cradles her whimpering grandson in her arms like a baby. Every few minutes, little Divan's body jerks as he is overcome by another coughing fit.

It got so bad a few moments earlier that he vomited all over Roets's lounge floor. Her blue-eyed grandchild is sick again, and she blames the clouds of toxic dust that Swirl from her unwanted neighbour: a barren mine dump that looms over the neat suburb of Mindalore, nestled in the hea1t of Krugersdorp, like a threat.

Just a few weeks ago, Divan was booked off school, with a severe bout of sinus. It was the same the month before. "Oh, it's horrible - what all tl1is dust is doing to us," says Roets, speaking quietly, as she looks at the dump across the road.

"Divan has constant sinus. He suffers from nosebleeds. His eyes are always red and irritated. By May, the family's medical aid has run out. It's not just Divan. We are all so sick all the time."

The 51-year-old has lived in Mindalore for more than 30 years, in the shadow of this mine dump that is now being re-mined to make bricks for homes.

Last year, mining rehabilitation outfit Mintails sta1ted its own opencast mine alongside the mine dump, or tailings, as tl1ey're also called. "The pollution became even worse," remarks Roets.

As soon as there's the merest whisper of wind, Roets puts on a surgical mask to protect herself. She has to do this. Her doctors have warned her that she risks sinus cancer because she is particularly sensitive to mining dust, which is conta111inated witl1 heavy metals, such as cadmium, arsenic and mercury, and is potentially radioactive. "When that dust blows, my voice goes," she says, her voice, faint and raspy. "You just close all your doors, windows and shut up. And when the sinus starts, goodness, it feels like someone has pm1ched me in the jaw, like there are needles in my mouth. I get ear infections, too.

"The doctor has told me that because of the constant sinus drip, there's a sore on my vocal chords, it has started to bleed and this can cause me to lose my voice." Her doctors have also advised her to move out of the blighted area. But she doesn't know where to go. She has lived here for most of her life and argues that the dumps - not her family - should go.

"But living here, you have to wash your clothes four times and scrape the mine dust from your tables and your cupboards. It's like sand in your hand ... in your mouth."

Staring at the unwelcome dump across the road, Trudy Fortuin, her friend and neighbour, agrees. The 44-year-old, who works from home, has lived in Mindalore for more than 11 years. Her young children also have continual respiratory infections and nosebleeds, as she does.

"When I cough, I can actually taste the blood in my mouth ... At times you can't even see, that's how bad it is. You have to put your headlights on there's so much dust on windy days. The dust covers everything in my house.

"And all this pollution has been exacerbated because of these companies using these dumps and starting to mine here again. Our children have nosebleeds more often, they’re sitting with sinus problems more often, as we are. It's worse for us because we are home all day."

More than 120 years of gold mining on the West Rand have created a dangerous legacy: contaminated water resources and wind-blown dust from the numerous tailings dams in the region.

Because the gold ores are uraniferous, the worry is that the dust from these dumps is not only chemically toxic but potentially radioactive.

Environmental activist Mariette Liefferink points out that 42 tons of tailings dust a day billow over the West Rand, with traces being found as far afield as Tasmania.

Even local authorities have noted that the incidence of respiratory illnesses in the region is exceptionally high, and they term the dust fallout from mine dumps a particular health hazard.

Last year, Carl Albrecht, the head of researcl1 at the Cancer Association of South Africa, collected and chemically analysed mine dust samples from Mindalore and nearby suburbs.

"I found the dumps contained varying amounts of uranium, but what this means in terms of health I do not know," he says, adding that he is a "one-man team" operating on a "shoestring budget".

"(The potential health effects) should be ascertained by the government and the mines. It will probably cost about R1O million to R20m to get reliable answers."

When uranium gets inside the body, it can lead to liver damage, kidney problems and cancer.

Michael Harris, another Mindalore resident, believes the results of the uranium samples, analysed by Wits University last year were explosive.

"There are some seriously high concentrations of uranimn in many of the samples," says HatTis. "In the top 10 were Riverlea, Mindalore, Lewisham and Soweto."

Harris believes there is anecdotal evidence of "abnormally high cancer rates" in the area.

Dolf Schneider says Lewisham, where he lives and which flanks Mindalore, also feels the brunt.

"When the wind blows, we see this white blanket of mine dust, and it affects us. My child, who is 6, starts to get nosebleeds."

Liefferink says that an epidemiological study of the health effects of mine tailings dust is long overdue.

"It (raises) the question why, after more than 130 years of gold mining, an epidemiological study has not been conducted."

But it's not only a mining legacy issue.

Companies like Mintails, says Harris, have "more than doubled the hazardous dust problem" in Mindalore.

Residents complain that they were not properly notified about Mintails' activities.

"One day, we had people coming to inspect our houses to see if there were cracks that would be affected by their blasting," Fortuin says.

"They told us they would not mine during the night and there would be a cut-off time. That was a lie. They started mining through the night."

Several months ago, Mintails notified residents it would complete its rehabilitation efforts by the end of last month. But its unfenced open-cast mine remains.

Eddie Milne, the chief executive of Mintails, says: "We do recognise that some remediation works needs to be completed to the relevant areas of our operations and this is scheduled to start as soon as we move into the dty season."

Rehabilitation during the wet season "does create difficulty (with) equipment and impacts on mine health and safety".

His company cannot be responsible for the dust fallout, Milne claims. Although it undertook rehabilitation mining in the area, it stopped four months ago. "Our operations were focused on hard-rock mining and not tailings."

Milne says Mintails, which is rehabilitating tailings across the West Rand and running open-cast operations, is far  from being the largest contributor to dust problems.

"The placement of tailings on surface is a legacy issue and should not be confused with the impact that Mintails is having on the environment. Mintails is, in fact, addressing the legacy issues for the betterment of society. Without the action that Mintails takes, the dust would be worse.

"The removal of multiple tailings dumps as well as the consolidation, rehabilitation and closing of these dumps permanently will, over time, improve the mpact of dust and other pollutants," he says.

But Liefferink says companies like Mintails worsen pollution on the West Rand because rehabilitation has not been completed at several sites, including nearby Kagiso and Boltonia.

"Mintails is not only remining the dumps, it has created new contaminated sites, like in Mindalore."

Remining removes the vegetation and the crust of the tailings dams, liberating the mine dust, Liefferink says.

Wessel Geldenhuys, who runs a clay brickmaking fir m that witl1 another brickmaker is remining Mindalore's dump to make bricks, concedes the dust fallout may have become worse.

"Maybe it's true that by removing the dump we are creating a little more dust, but in six to eight months, thatt dump will be gone and the area will be rehabilitated. That dump has been there for a 100 years."

Geldenhuys's fmu uses a small portion of the mine tailings to make bricks.

"It is a bit radioactive, but so is the granite in our kitchens."

Fortuin says she and her husband have spent thousands of rand fixing up their home.

"We could never get our money back. Who would want to buy here? "We tell ourselves not to expose this mining pollution so we can sell our houses, but what about the health of the people who buy here?"

Roets is in the same boat as Fortuin.

She lifts her bedroom carpet to show a thick layer of mine dust on the floor. "This was tested and was high in uranium. It's scary. Every year we have to replace our window fittings because they have disintegrated. Imagine what's happening inside our bodies," she says.

Read 16601 times Last modified on Thursday, 05 November 2015 16:11

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Mining activists in SA face death threats, intimidation and harassment - report

SATURDAY STAR | 19 APRIL 2019, 7:41PM | SHEREE BEGA Picture:Yvette Descham On August 13 2013, Billy M heard gunshots at the gate of his house. He didn't know who fired the gun, and, worried that local traditional leadership might be involved, he didn't report the incident to the police. For the next five years, the community activist from Fuleni, a small rural village in KwaZulu-Natal bordering one of SA's oldest and largest wilderness areas, the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park, continued to receive threats.  "We know our lives are in danger. This is part of the struggle," he says, simply. Billy M's account is contained in a new report released this week, 'We know Our  Lives Are in Danger’: Environment of Fear in South Africa’s Mining-Affected Communities, which documents how community activists in mining areas face harassment, intimidation and violence. The report details how in Billy M's case, mining company Ibutho Coal had applied for rights to develop a coal mine in Fuleni in 2013. The development would have required the relocation of hundreds of people from their homes and farmland and destroy graveyards. "The mine's environmental impact assessment estimated that more than 6000 people living in the Fuleni area would be impacted. Blasting vibration, dust, and floodlights, too, could harm the community," says the report."During the environmental consultation processes, Billy M led opposition that culminated in a protest by community members in April 2016."The company reportedly abandoned the project in 2016 while another firm, Imvukuzane Resources is reportedly interested in mining in the area.The 74-page report, compiled by Human Rights Watch, the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), groundWork, and Earthjustice, describes a system designed to "deter and penalise" mining opponents.The authors conducted interviews with more than 100 activists, community leaders, environmental groups, lawyers representing activists, police and municipal officials, describing the targeting of community rights defenders in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Northwest, and Eastern Cape between 2013 and 2018. They report intimidation, violence, damage to property, the use of excessive force during peaceful protests, and arbitrary arrest for their activities in highlighting the negative impacts of mining projects on their communities. "The attacks and harassment have created an atmosphere of fear for community members who mobilise to raise concerns about damage to their livelihoods from the serious environmental and health risks of mining and coal-fired power plants," write the authors."Women often play a leading role in voicing these concerns, making them potential targets for harassment and attacks."But municipalities often impose barriers to protest on organisers that have no legal basis while government officials have failed to adequately investigate allegations of abuse."Some mining companies resort to frivolous lawsuits and social media campaigns to further curb opposition to their projects.  The government has a Constitutional obligation to protect activists," write the authors. Picture: Shayne Robinson, Section 27 Authorities should address the environmental and health concerns related to mining "instead of harassing the activists voicing these concerns,” remarks Matome Kapa, attorney at the CER.The report starts with the high-profile murder of activist Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe, who was killed at his home after receiving anonymous death threats in 2016. Rhadebe was the chairperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC), a community-based organisation formed in 2007 to oppose mining activity in Xolobeni in the Eastern Cape.  "Members of his community had been raising concerns that the titanium mine that Australian company Mineral Commodities Ltd proposed to develop on South Africa’s Wild Coast would displace the community and destroy their environment, traditions, and livelihoods. More than three years later, the police have not identified any suspects in his killing."Nonhle Mbuthuma, another Xolobeni community leader and spokesperson of the ACC, has also faced harassment and death threats from unidentified individuals. "I know I am on the hit list.… If I am dying for the truth, then I am dying for a good cause. I am not turning back," she says.But other mining areas have had experiences similar to that of Xolobeni. "While Bazooka’s murder and the threats against Nonhle have received domestic and international attention, many attacks on activists have gone unreported or unnoticed both within and outside the  country."This is, in part, because of "fear of retaliation for speaking out, and because police sometimes do not investigate the attacks", the authors found.The origin of these attacks or threats are often unknown. "So are the perpetrators, but activists believe they may have been facilitated by police, government officials, private security providers, or others apparently acting on behalf of mining companies. "Threats and intimidation by other community members against activists often stem from a belief that activists are preventing or undermining an economically-beneficial mining project. In some cases, government officials or representatives of companies deliberately drive and exploit  these community divisions, seeking to isolate and stigmatize those opposing the mine."The Minerals Council South Africa, which represents 77 mining companies, including some in the research areas, responded that it “is not aware of any threats or attacks against community rights defenders where (its) members operate”.The authors state that while the mining sector and the government emphasise how mining is essential for economic development, "they fail to acknowledge that mining comes at a high environmental and social cost, and often takes place without adequate consultation with,or consent of, local communities".The absence of effective government oversight means that mining activities have harmed the rights of communities across South Africa in various ways. "Such activities have depleted water supplies, polluted the air, soil, and water, and destroyed arable land and ecosystems."Researchers also documented cases of police misconduct, arbitrary arrest, and excessive use of force during protests in mining-affected communities, "which is part of a larger pattern in South Africa".Last year, the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) at Wits University documented various efforts by traditional authorities to stifle opposition to mines in their communities. "In some cases, traditional authorities label those opposing mines as anti-development and troublemakers, thus alienating and stigmatising them.As a result, community members are often afraid to speak out against a mine in open consultations," CALS found.Research by the SA Human Rights Commission, too, has found that community members sometimes “are afraid to openly oppose the mine for fear of intimidation or unfavourable treatment (by the Traditional Authority)."The SAHRC says many mining-affected communities are experiencing “the creation of tension and division within communities as a result of mining operations.Sometimes, threats and intimidation against activists come from community members who have been promised economic benefit from the proposed project or are politically allied with the government or traditional authority."Local communities often do not benefit from mining activities, says the report. "Although South African law requires the development of social and labour plans (SLPs) that establish binding commitments by mining companies to benefit communities and mine workers, CALS has documented significant flaws in the development and implementation of SLPs."Despite the environmental and social costs of mining, the government is not adequately enforcing relevant environmental standards and mining regulations throughout South Africa. The SAHRC has found that the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) often fails to hold mining companies accountable, "imposing few or no consequences for unlawful activities and therefore shifting the costs of pollution to local communities."Compliance with regulatory obligations, as well as monitoring and enforcement of such responsibilities, remains a crucial concern in the context of mining activities," says the SAHRC, noting how the DMR and other governmental agencies often do not respond to complaints filed against mines by community members.The report's authors describe how the lack of government action and oversight has also helped make the mining industry one of the least transparent industries in South Africa. Information that communities require to understand the impacts of mines and to hold mining companies accountable for harmful activities is often not publicly available. "Such information includes environmental authorisations, environmental management programs, waste management licences, atmospheric emission licences, mining rights, mining work programmes, social and labour plans, or compliance and enforcement information."The only way to access such information is through a request under South Africa’s access to information law, a procedure that the World Health Organisation has called 'seriously flawed' and which the DMR regularly flouts. In addition, mining companies and the government rarely consult meaningfully with communities during the mining approval process, resulting in uninformed and poor government and industry decisions that do not reflect community perspectives or have their support," says the report.The authors assert how the threats, attacks, and other forms of intimidation against community rights defenders and environmental groups have created an environment of fear "that prevents mining opponents from exercising their rights to freedom of opinion, expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and undermines their ability to defend themselves from the threats of mining".In its November 2018 review of South Africa’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed concern about “reports of human rights defenders, particularly those working to promote and defend the rights under the Covenant in the mining and environmental sectors, being threatened and harassed". It recommended that South Africa provide a safe and favourable environment for the work of human rights defenders to promote and protect economic, social, and cultural rights, including by "ensuring that all reported cases of intimidation, harassment, and violence against human rights defenders are promptly and thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators are brought to justice". Mining activist Mariette Liefferink, who made submissions to the UN committee, tells how it has become increasingly difficult to work as an environmental rights defender in South Africa.   "There is an overwhelming body of evidence of intimidation, whether it is by means of frontal attacks or more insidious attacks on activists."International and South African law requires South Africa to guarantee the rights of all people to life, security, freedoms of opinion, expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and the rights to health and a healthy environment, say the authors."The attacks, threats, and obstacles to peaceful protest described in this report prevent many community activists in South Africa from exercising these rights to oppose or raise concerns about mines, in violation of South Africa’s obligations." 

Changing the narrative: The women who inspired the City Press team

City Press Reporters | 2019-08-09 05:00 Image source: Stock/Gallo images   As part of our jobs, journalists meet all sorts of people, from celebrities to politicians. Often, we walk away feeling dejected and despondent. But sometimes, the people we interview leave us feeling invigorated and inspired. These are some of them: Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, small business minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni at her swearing in as an MP by chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. Picture: Cebile Ntuli Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, South Africa’s small business minister, once tried to persuade Nelson Mandela to get the ANC to negotiate that 16 be the voting age. She was 14 at the time. It was the 1990s, during the heady days of the Convention for a Democratic SA. President Cyril Ramaphosa was present during the interaction. The interaction with Madiba planted the seeds of “focus and determination” in Ntshavheni, who says these are the same character traits that, years later, defined the role she played as municipal manager of Ba-Phalaborwa Local Municipality in Limpopo – in particular, the lesson that “age, gender and race have no bearing on my ability to achieve my set targets despite the obstacles”. At age 42, Ntshavheni is one of the youngest ministers in the new Cabinet. One of her most pressing tasks is to ask Parliament to amend the Small Business Act to better deal with current issues facing the sector. This will entail updating the act to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to access funding from state agencies and the banking sector, and to ensure that small businesses are paid within the prescribed 21 days. She says big business, too, ought to assist in creating access to markets for small traders and, as a measure of last resort, “if we need to set quotas, it should be so”. Ntshavheni believes that if small businesses are able to survive the first five years of being established and could grow to medium-sized businesses, job creation would boom. “To achieve this, we need to remove the red tape, improve their cash flow through paying them on time, help them access markets for their products, and upskill them for proper financial management.” Sufficient groundwork has been done, she says, and now it is time for implementation. – Setumo Stone Read: New minister knows all about small business Barbara Creecy, minister of forestry, fisheries and environmental affairs Barbara Creecy. Picture: The Daily Sun Barbara Creecy is the first to admit that she inherited a department that is in good shape. But she is in no doubt of the importance of her new job. SA’s latest minister of environment, forestry and fisheries took over the old environmental affairs department earlier this year, with two new entities having been added to its functions: forestry and fisheries. 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She says that while she is trying to learn fast so she can hit the ground running, she is also “fortunate, because even if I have never been at national government before, I have served at executive level in the provincial government for 15 years”. “I have had three diverse portfolios – in sports, education and finance. What that has taught me to do is ask: ‘How do I enter into a leadership space and quickly understand what the issues are, and how do I then look at starting to add value?’” – Setumo Stone Read: Barbara Creecy will build on work of predecessors as she inherits department in ‘good shape’ Pemmy Majodina, chief whip ANC new Chief Whip Pemmy Majodina. Picture: Misheck Makora ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina has made a name for herself among fashion watchers with her love of sheer, loud-coloured fabrics and big, brim-feathered hats. But her presence was impressive enough for the ANC’s national executive committee, which resolved that she would take up the top job of chief whip. Majodina grew up as an orphan, is a “ruralitarian” from Sterkspruit, Eastern Cape, a preacher in the Methodist church, and mother to a young man named Mkhonto weSizwe, a name born out of a need to preserve history and also an ode to the “glorious army” she served in. In her first address to the media alongside ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, Majodina boldly proclaimed that the new parliamentary caucus would not be “lame ducks”. The chief whip said she was making reference to the need for the ANC to revisit its understanding of its role of oversight in Parliament. “As members of the ANC we must understand that we have a judiciary with a clear mandate, we have an executive with a clear mandate and a legislature with a clear mandate. If you can internalise that then you will know your role as the legislature. “In the previous terms the ANC has been accused of asking darling questions and that we don’t hold the executive to account, and so on. The Constitution is very clear: there is a separation of powers. We as the legislature have a mandate to play an oversight role over the executive.” The fifth Parliament was a tumultuous one, with it standing accused of failing in holding to account former president Jacob Zuma. While emphasising the need for natural justice to be observed, Majodina is adamant that ANC members who serve in the executive and are found to be involved in wrongdoing will find no refuge in Parliament. “If a matter comes to Parliament it must come. There is no one higher than the law. If we swear in a member today and tomorrow there is a damning report that finds the member guilty, we are not going to be defending an individual. We are here to preserve the values of the ANC. Whoever is found to be on the wrong side of the law must face the music.” The chief whip will be making a comeback to Parliament, having served in the National Council of Provinces from 1999 to 2004 before making her way to the Eastern Cape government, where she was deployed in five different departments. She argues that this makes her no newcomer to the legislature. “My vision is to make ANC members in Parliament accountable to their constituencies first. We are going to play an oversight role by ensuring that every item committed to in the manifesto is implemented. “And if there is anything that cannot be done, it must be explained, because as we worked across the country, people were saying that when things change they are not informed.” – S’thembile Cele Read: New chief whip Pemmy Majodina plans to sebenza all the way Nompendulo Mkhatshwha, ANC member of Parliament Nompendulo Mkhatshwa pictured in 2016 when she was Wits SRC president. Picture: Thapelo Maphakel Well known for the iconic image showing her in an ANC doek, her fist in the air, which was shot at the height of the #FeesMustFall movement, activist Nompendulo Mkhatshwa (25) is now one of the 230 ANC MPs representing the party. Mkhatshwa rose to prominence in 2015, while studying for her BSc degree at Wits University. She was leader of the Students’ Representative Council (SRC). She has also worked part-time as a researcher at Luthuli House. Mkhatshwa was short-listed at number 101 on the ANC’s national list of individuals to head to Parliament. She represents the future of the ANC in all respects – a young woman and a gender activist who is driven by the plight of the youth and women. Mkhatshwa has risen through the ranks of the ruling party, however, she has clearly not forgotten her roots. In her maiden speech in Parliament in June, she highlighted the struggles of incarcerated #FeesMustFall activists. Using her platform as an MP, Mkhatshwa reminded society that a nation could not be built while others are left behind academically and economically. Mkhatshwa said while the protests by students in 2015 and 2016 have resulted in great strides in the higher education space, it was concerning that some activists were still behind bars for fighting for free tertiary education. – Juniour Khumalo Read: Who’s getting the House in order? Youngsters and oldies will share the benches in Parliament Naledi Chirwa, EFF MP Naledi Chirwa (EFF). Picture: Jaco Marais Student activist Naledi Chirwa (24) has rising in the ranks from serving as deputy president of the student representative council at Tshwane North College and fighting tirelessly to expose the debilitating circumstances of black people, black students and black women in the tertiary education space to now being counted among the EFF’s growing contingent in the National Assembly. Introduced to student politics in 2010, Chirwa rose to serve as the media and communications officer for the EFF Students Command. And has also been tireless in elevating the plight of jailed or student leaders facing criminal charges in to public discourse. In her maiden speech at the National Assembly in June, Chirwa further entrench her optimistic ideology that young people are not prepared to sit on the sidelines while decisions are being made about them. So powerful was Chirwa’s speech that even veteran parliamentarian Yunus Carrim asked: “What is this youth fundamentalism?” With youthful female leaders like Chirwa there is no doubt that young people, like generations before them, are making their mark for all to see.   – Juniour Khumalo Read: Who’s getting the House in order? Youngsters and oldies will share the benches in Parliament Yugen Blakrok, hip-hop musician Yugen Blakrok who is feature on the Black Panther soundtrack that was released two weeks ago. Picture: Supplied Yugen Blakrok hails from the Queenstown, Eastern Cape but her work has propelled her to France, from where she spoke to #Trending earlier this year. Last year her star elevated to the heights of Hollywood when she appeared on the acclaimed Black Panther soundtrack. She featured on a track called Opps with US rapper and west coast representative Vince Staples, as well as Kendrick Lamar, who produced the album. The experience for her was something she could not have imagined before. “By featuring on a release that big and completely foreign to me, I learnt many valuable lessons. Vince is a funny dude and a great artist, live as well. I thoroughly enjoyed performing with him when he was in South Africa.” The two shared a stage at Zone 6 Venue in Soweto when Vince toured here last year. The streets had mixed reactions to the performance as the sound was perhaps not at the level it should’ve been. Opps is a street term referring to opponents or opposition and features Kendrick Lamar doing his usual nonsense on the hook. Thankfully he makes way for the two emcees. She is adamant that locally produced art can thrive internationally and she hopes that would motivate the local industry to treat our artists better and increase the chances of lucrative gains. She is inspired by artists who have managed to shape their own lane in the arts, those who go against the grain, much like she does. “I’m not one of those rappers that started at an early age. I didn’t always know what I wanted to do after I finished school.” She first appeared on a mixtape in 2004 and only after that did the idea that she could do this professionally dawn on her. “Before then, I was just playing with words.” – Phumlani S Langa Read: Get to know Yugen Blakrok, empress of the underground Mokgadi Mabela, honey producer Mokgadi Mabela, founder of Native Nosi. (Image supplied) Within African traditional medicine, honey has been used since time immemorial for its physical healing abilities, as well as for its symbolic and spiritual significance. However, not all honey runs rich with the aforementioned therapeutic properties. Approximately 60% of the honey on South African supermarket shelves is imported and irradiated to a point where nutritional benefits are negligible. Mokgadi Mabela, a third-generation beekeeper, harvests and sells pure, raw honey from environmentally sustainable hives placed on farms and in rural communities across Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo. Last year, she sold almost two tons of her multiaward-winning local honey brand Native Nosi – most of it via her online shop. She attributes her success to the fact that “customers increasingly want to know where their food comes from and how it has been produced”. “I place the hives, inspect the hives and harvest the honey. I can guarantee that my honey hasn’t been tampered with and our bees were not fed artificial nutrients. I can tell you exactly where the honey in every pot I produce comes from, as well as the conditions in that particular place.” When it comes to honey, local really is lekker. Mokgadi explains that “the closer the honey was produced to the location of your specific home, the more antibodies that pertain to your specific circumstances it will contain. The bees will have fed on the flowers in your environment and those are the ones from which the pollen allergens that affect you come.” Native Nosi honey is not only healthy, it is also delicious and diverse. Mokgadi says “Nosi is the Sotho word for honey bee. To me, Native Nosi represents pure, natural unadulterated honey products produced locally and in harmony, and it also represents continuity with my past and present. My grandfather and my father were beekeepers before me, and I hope that Native Nosi reflects a respect for their skills and wisdom, and reveals a love connection in everything we do. “Historically, bees have been associated with ancestral communication and, in my case, that connection is very direct. I hope my grandfather would be pleased that, even though I didn’t meet him, he was sowing the seed for what I do. Generations along the line, he would recognise my passion and commitment. I only know my grandfather through the stories that others tell, but all of those show him to be a man worthy of respect. It pleases me to honour that image. I want to respect his legacy. I want to make him proud.” – Anna Trapido Read: How Mokgadi Mabela built award-winning local honey brand Native Nosi Mariette Liefferink, mining activist Activist Mariette Liefferink Johannesburg’s mines have contaminated virtually everything in the 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. And nobody knows this more than environmental activist Mariette Liefferink, who features in the 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. Liefferink 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. – Grethe Kemp Read: Jozi Gold reveals shocking truths about mining pollution Justa Frans, tracker Justa Frans Making the choice to keep her Kwhe family traditions alive, 25-year-old Justa Frans went on a journey to learn the art of wildlife tracking. Now she’s the first formally accredited female tracker in the Karoo. The settlement of Platfontein, about 22km from Kimberley, in the Northern Cape, is home to the Kwhe and !Xun descendants of the San Namibian trackers. In the 60s they were first deployed by t he Portuguese Angolan military forces in Angola, and later in the 70s by the former SA Defence Force in the Namibian struggle for independence. After that war ended many chose to relocate to South Africa. Frans’ family was one such. This 25-year-old was determined to keep alive her Kwhe family traditions so she made a choice. She rejected the modern hip-hop culture burgeoning in Platfontein and is threatening the old folklore, storytelling, traditional music and healing dances. “I didn’t want to lose my culture,” she says. “I chose tracking.” Frans now works at the Karoo Lodge in the award-winning Samara Private Game Reserve located on 28 000 hectares of wilderness in the middle of the Eastern Cape. Last year she graduated from the Sact Tracker Academy, a training division of the SA College for Tourism in Tswalu, South Africa’s largest private game reserve in the Northern Cape. It’s a fully accredited training programme with the Culture, Arts, Tourism, Hospitality and Sport Sector Education and Training Authority and is the first tracker training school in South Africa to achieve this distinction. Frans graduated with a Level 3 tracking qualification that requires a 90% score. “I was taken into the bush. I thought it was just a classroom day. But it turned out to be the exam.” She is now working as an intern at Samara Reserve that also has a tracker academy on site, and hopes to be appointed to a permanent position. She is thrilled that Samara has recently become home to the first elephants and lions in the region for more than 170 years. “I can now track the Big Five.” She laughs as she says that guests are usually very surprised to have a woman tracker on their guided game drives and bush walks. “I love to see their faces!” Her ambition now is to get her driver’s licence and to teach other students, especially women, tracking skills. “Tracking is in my blood,” says Frans firmly. “I know that in the past it was only the men who did the tracking but now a woman can too.” She adds shyly: “Sometimes now the men are a bit jealous.” – Kate Turkington Read: Meet Justa Frans, the Karoo’s first formally accredited female tracker Portia Mavhungu, social innovator Portia Muvhungu Portia Mavhungu invented a device that allows those in wheelchairs to use the toilet without having to be lifted from their chair. Thirty-year-old Mavhungu, a Pretoria-based social entrepreneur, called her invention the Para Tube. She came up with the idea after being confined to a wheelchair for a while after an accident. “In 2011, I had an accident where I broke my pelvis. I was in the hospital for several weeks and in a wheelchair for the rest of the year. I fell into a depression over the loss of my independence. I needed my mother to lift me every time I needed to use the toilet. “I was in this situation for only a short time and thought about how hard it would be for those who experience this their whole lives.” With the Para Tube, the user pulls the centre part of the seat forward with a handle, and the middle seat flips up in the shape of a toilet. The user then defecates or urinates into a biodegradable bag in the opening. The bag locks in any smell and can then be disposed of in a similar way to a nappy. This invention is the first of its kind. Its efficiency and use of material offer greater comfort and ease than anything else available on the market. “The commode, which is our competitor, uses a bucket system. The commode seat is hard and people start sweating and develop sores, and their backs are hurt,” says Mavhungu. “With us, the seating is breathable material. It has PVC in the centre, so you’re able to wipe it. The seat is waterproof and the height of the seat protects the user’s lumbar spine.” The device will also be a great help in hospitals. “We have a shortage of nurses in South Africa,” says Mavhungu. “When you’re in a hospital, you have to wait for a nurse to lift you and place a steel bedpan underneath you. “I remember being in hospital with a broken pelvis and being taken off morphine. The nurses would put a bedpan underneath me and leave me, and I would just be shaking and in pain and waiting for the nurse to come back to take me off the bedpan.” Mavhungu says she didn’t decide to become an inventor, but always knew she wanted to help people. Her mother died from cancer in 2017, and she left her job to focus on developing the Para Tube. “What drives me is the passion. I know I’ve succeeded when someone has used the device and it’s helped them,” she says. – Grethe Kemp Read: This SA-invented device helps the disabled use the toilet Bongiwe Msomi, netball player  Netball Proteas captain playing for her home team Umgungundlovu during day four of the of the SPAR National Netball Championships at the University of Johannesburg sports grounds on Thursday. Picture: Palesa Dlamini/City Press Bongiwe Msomi (31) is the captain of the applause-deserving South African Netball Proteas team that reached the playoffs at the 2019 Netball World Cup in Liverpool for the first time in 24 years. Having started playing netball at the tender age of 16 Msomi said she could never have imagined herself playing for the national squad let alone leading the team. “Being selected to play for the national team has been the highlight of the 15 years I have been plaing netball. I have played overseas, in countries including Australia and England but the best thing for me, I can never take away the moment I was announced as a South African national player,” she said. Msomi said she never purposefully got in to the sport which now holds a special place not just in her heart but in her life. “Where I grew up soccer and netball were the major sports. Even when I tried things like athletics I realised I was nowhere close to being good. So I went to watch some neighbourhood friends in one of their netball training sessions one day and they were one player short and that is how I got into netball,” she said. The Proteas captain said she is glad that she took up the sport because it has a lot to offer young girls. She has been captain for more than three years and said she could not be prouder. “I am part of this amazing team and representing my country is humbling,” Msomi excitedly said. South Africa is set to host the next edition of the Netball World Cup, in Cape Town in 2023. – Palesa Dlamini

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