On 19 May, the Federation for a Sustainable Environment submitted a report to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Water and the Environment, on invitation. The subject, the current status of AMD.
One of the most abundant heavy metals in the earth's crust, uranium is a known radiological element and toxin. It is also a major by-product of gold mining, historically one of South Africa's greatest economic undertakings. The country additionally began mining specifically for uranium in 1949, primarily for export to the United States and other nuclear-intensive countries throughout the Cold War.
As the conflict between East and West subsided, uranium mining waned, with the gold output from the Witwatersrand reef also declining. Today, hundreds of thousands of tons of uranium by-product sit in mine dumps scattered across the country, with 100 000 tons of the heavy metal in Gauteng's Western Basin and Far Western Basin alone, according to Frank Winde of the North-West University at Potchefstroom.
Concerns that Johannesburg and the Cradle of Humankind will soon be flooded with acid mine drainage (AMD) have been central to discussions on polluted mine water for months, with the public being worked up into a frenzy about the CBD sinking and South Africa's heritage being wiped out.
While a media storm has been created around these predictions, fuelled by worried activists and a reactionary government, estimations of both sites flooding are not as concrete as one might think. Some scientists and government officials note that Johannesburg will with no uncertainty be the next target, advocating action, while others claim the city faces a very minimal threat. Similar opinions surround potential affects on the Cradle.
Environmental activist Mariette Liefferink's four-inch crimson heels still sport their Woolworths sticker as they puncture the sulphuric crust lining Robinson Lake, situated in the Western Basin of the Witwatersrand.
The water is quiet, smells slightly of vinegar and laps gently against a shore devoid of any life save for a few, lone reeds. Behind the lake is a large, naked yellow mountain of mine waste adorned with a few small green nets meant to stop the dust from blowing in an incessant wind.
With more information on environmental research reports at the disposal of the general public, a new type of activism has been visible in South Africa since 2007. This new typeÂ of activism entailed, amongst others, a more informed activist empowered with more freedom of speech and a right to information (according to the rights provided as in the South African Constitution). The formal founding of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE) for South Africa in October 2007 serves as an example of proactive oppositional environmental activism (POEA).
FOR WRITTEN REPLY
QUESTION NO 386
DATE OF PUBLICATION IN INTERNAL QUESTION PAPER: 26 FEBRUARY 2010
(INTERNAL QUESTION PAPER NO. 4)
386. Mr G R Morgan (DA) to ask the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs:
(1)(a) What are the current locations where acid mine water is decanting in Gauteng, (b) into which water courses are they decanting, (c) what is the size of the decant each day, (d) how many (i) people and (ii) farming operations are (aa) directly and (bb) indirectly affected by the decanting at each of these locations and (e) how was these figures arrived at;
(2)whether efforts are being made to warn people about the dangers of using water from water courses into which acid mine water has decanted; if not, why not; if so, what are the relevant details;
(3)whether steps are being taken to (a) reduce and (b) treat the decant at each of these sites; if not, why not; if so, what are the relevant details?
Mariette Liefferink CEO of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment has issued a comment on the Draft Regional Closure Strategy Of Mines On The West Rand And Far West Rand.
1987: "..problems related to mining waste may be rated as second only to global warming...mining waste can result in profound, generally irreversible destruction of ecosystems"
~ expert assessment from Environmental Protection Agency, 1987
2003: "...the groundwater in the mining district of Johannesburg, South Africa, is heavily contaminated and acidified....The polluted groundwater is discharging into streams in the area and contributes up to 20 % of the stream flow, causing an increase the acidity of the stream water. The effect of the
contaminated water from the mines can persist for more than 10 km beyond the source"
~ Naiker study, 2003 "Acid mine drainage from gold mining activities in Johannesburg, South Africa and environs"
The Federation for a Sustainable Environment will sue the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA) if it doesn't start cleaning up the acid mine drainage (AMD) poisoning the Witwatersrand.
Soweto, Johannesburg - Thousands of people face evacuation from greater Johannesburg in the Gauteng province - the economic heartland of South Africa - due to toxic sludge from abandoned gold mines laced with high radiation levels.