Illegal mine closures expected

One of the West Rand mining waste reclamation areas (Pulitzer Centre).
One of the West Rand mining waste reclamation areas (Pulitzer Centre).

State records show very few legal mine closures, indicating lack of environmental rehabilitation, lingering liabilities, and lack of state rehab capacity.

Funds set aside for environmental rehabilitation is often minimal, despite the required provisions. Using the Promotion of Access to Information Act to obtain Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) records in Gauteng, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape provinces, journalist Mark Olalde gained limited some information.

The DMR allegedly stalled on providing some documents, he reported on Pulizercentre.org. The revealed documents show that from July 2012 to July 2015, no mine closures certificates were yet granted to mining rights holders in Gauteng.

A company could remove its liability for a mining site by obtaining a closure certificate.

Three applications for mining rights were launched, implying sites larger than five hectares, for a renewable period of 30 years.

State reluctant to allow mine closures

Only when mines obtain certificates for mine closures, do the liabilities, responsibilities and accountability transfer back to the state, said Mariette Liefferink, chief executive of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment.

“The reason why no mine closures were issued is basically that the state does not wish to carry those costs.”

In KwaZulu-Natal province there are 818 mining rights, permits, and prospecting rights; of which 52 have applied for closure certificates, but 50 were mere prospecting or mining permits, and the remaining two were unspecified.

Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) decanting from West Rand dumps and voids, via the Tweelopie Spruit and Krugersdorp Game Reserve (Pulitzer Centre).
Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) decanting from West Rand dumps and voids, via the Tweelopie Spruit and Krugersdorp Game Reserve (Pulitzer Centre).

Mine closure finance to little

The DMR may use the money already money set aside in the required financial provisions, for rehabilitation. However this mechanism had never been used yet.

“The costs and impacts would be further externalised to communities, often poor communities adjacent to these mines,” said Liefferink.

DMR documents show that only small amounts of the financial provisions are held in cash, and the rest in guarantees.

Of the Free State’s R4-b worth of guarantees for rehabilitation, only R42-m is held in cash.

A few large mines have guarantees exceeding R30-m in KwaZulu-Natal. One mining right has a rehabilitation fund of only R10 000.

In the Eastern Cape, there are 277 prospecting rights, mining permits and mining rights, but only R83-m in guarantees for remediation.

Large mines hold the majority of these guarantees, but some entries have as little as R5 000 for rehabilitation.

Central Rand Gold did not apply for mine closure

Notably absent from Gauteng’s list of applications for a closure certificate, is Central Rand Gold SA (Pty) Ltd. The company works Ferreira Estate and Investment Company Ltd’s mining right on 9000 hectares of the Central Rand Goldfield in Johannesburg.

CRG formed in 2006 to re-mine the waste remnants of Johannesburg’s initial gold rush.

CRG had estimated to recover 120-m ounces of gold, worth about $140-b at current prices.

An investor told Sheqafrica.com that he had held shares in mining waste, but sold it when illegal mining became more frequent some years ago.

Residents in Riverlea are not happy, reported Olalde. CRG Nasrec Pit operations, adjacent to George Harrison Park, remains unremediated.

Illegal, small-scale gold miners, or zama zamas, now work a pit next to TC Esterhuysen Primary School. Promises of jobs to the community did not materialise.

CRG’s social and labour plan provided for 2270 jobs, 57% of whom were supposed to be locals.

Mark Kayter of the Riverlea Community Forum said no jobs have realised. The company had also agreed to register 100 companies for the community, again without result.

Godfrey Makomene of the Affected Communities Elected Representatives group had had engaged in the company’s social responsibility initiatives. “They made a lot of promises… but nothing has happened,” he said.

Johannesburg City Parks was meant to benefit from a R5-m investment in upgrading George Harrison Park, but “Not a cent was disbursed to City Parks or any city entity toward the upgrade,” said City Parks spokesperson Jenny Moodley.

Environmental degradation near George Harrison Park, where legal reclaimers and illegal miners were both reported to be tunneling from old adits (Pulitzer Centre).
Environmental degradation near George Harrison Park, where legal reclaimers and illegal miners were both reported to be tunneling from old adits (Pulitzer Centre).

Illegal miners are also tunneling

The city is investigating whether George Harrison Park may collapse from additional tunnels dug by the company, or by illegal miners.

The company’s financial provision for remediation is about R40-m.

Road and building waste complicate remediation

Central Rand Gold never obtained a water use licence. “People are suffering here from respiratory conditions, certain types of cancers, and eye irritations,” Kayter said.

Local clinics declined to provide residents with information on local health statistics. In June last year, community members sued for alleged illegal dumping of non-mine waste into the pits, some of it potentially from highway construction.

In a statement to Oxpeckers, the SA National Roads Agency (SANRAL) press office wrote: “SANRAL is not aware of the dumping being referred to in Central Rand Gold’s pits. We will investigate the matter further with our Routine Road Maintenance Contractor.”

There is also private building waste going into the pit, said Kayter. (see oxpeckers.org)

Meanwhile government is drafting a One Environmental System to regulate various activities, including mining.

Department of Environmental Affairs regulations under the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), closed loopholes in financial provisioning for mine closures two years ago, including “care and maintenance” to postpone remediation, by capping the allowable postponement at five years.

The regulations also require enough money for “remediation and management of latent or residual environmental impacts which may become known in future, including the pumping and treatment of polluted or extraneous water”.

This puts the cost of acid mine drainage back on companies. However, the actual calculating of financial provisions remains tied to an earlier document, leaving some AMD issues open to legal interpretation.

Three months ago, the National Nuclear Regulator drafted new regulations to regulate radon emissions and mine waste more strictly.

The South African Human Rights Commission is investigating the impacts of mining. A report is expected in March.

  • Source; Pulitzercentre.org. Mark Olalde.
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