Many residents of Soweto and the greater West Rand area, face health hazards and damage to their homes that they feel are the result of nearby mining operations.
There have been numerous reports, particularly in terms of acid mine drainage and dust from mine dumps that residents allege have caused deaths.
Israel Mosala from the Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of South Africa says at least 20% of residents in Meadowlands are affected by this yellow dust – which comes from tailings at gold mines – becoming asthmatic, suffering from eczema or developing eye problems.
“The dust problem is predominant in areas where mine dumps are being re-mined,” says Bench Marks Foundation chief researcher David van Wyk, adding that Meadowlands, Snake Park and Riverlea are the worst-affected areas.
Although there are different mining companies in the area, DRDGold and Central Rand Gold are the most prominent, according to Van Wyk.
“There are trails of uranium, silica and arsenic in various mine dumps and all three of those elements can cause health problems.”
Van Wyk says Soweto is plagued by legacies of the apartheid regime, which pushed blacks out of the city of Johannesburg and moved them all to the south.
“Soweto should not be where it is,” says Van Wyk. “All the mine dumps are located higher than Soweto, which is in a basin, and that makes it a dust bucket. So all the pollution from the mines and industry blows and flows into Soweto.”
Pretorius not convinced
DRDGold CEO Niël Pretorius, says he is not convinced that that there is a direct causal link between the yellow dust and the said illnesses, saying there are people who have worked on those mine dumps for up to 30 years who have not fallen ill.
“Until such a time that I see medical evidence, or there is a summons or claim that is based on a proper medical report and expert evidence, I will remain sceptical about these claims,” says Pretorius.
Although he concedes that the dust can cause respiratory problems for very young or very old people, he feels the issue is more likely due to social ills.
Says Pretorius: “In Riverlea and Noordgesig, most of the people are desperately poor and the unemployment rate is really high. The socioeconomic conditions under which these people are living are desperate at best. But just on the other side of the tailings dam, closer to the Diepkloof area, which is a slightly more affluent area – obviously the nutrition is better and the social ills like alcohol abuse are less prevalent – very seldom are the complaints any other than ‘this dust is a nuisance’.”
Nevertheless, DRDGold has spent about R800 million on vegetating and rehabilitating the dumps and Pretorius says that, by the year 2023, the problem will be eliminated.
In Kagiso, vibrations from the blasts have seen many home structures crack, while those very close to the mining sites suffer much from breaking glasses. In 2014 there were a number of protests against the Mintails, an Australian owned company, because the value of their homes would decline if the company continued with its blasting only 100 metres from people’s homes.
The company continues to operate there, as it has a mining right, but Kgomotso Tolamo, research specialist at the Centre for Affordable Housing Finance in Africa, says the appreciation or depreciation of properties in mining towns is not necessarily a factor of the impact on housing structures alone.
“It depends on which mining town it is, how accessible financing is, whether operations in that area are at their peak or dying down and the quality of the actual homes there, among other things,” she says.
Meanwhile, in Dobsonville, residents also complain that they have to pay for the mining activities of at least the past 40 years, as some of their houses are showing dangerous levels of deterioration. They have become accustomed to periodic blasting that occurs, while mine companies are absolved of any responsibility to the extent that homeowners’ title deeds have clauses exonerating mines from any damage that occurs.
“As the property forms part of land which is or may be subject to mining operations, the transferee accepts entirely the risk of any damage,” reads the title deed of a Moneyweb staff member residing in Dobsonville.
Durban Roodepoort Deep Limited is the mining company named in the contract, but DRDGold does not currently do any blasting at any of its operations.
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