The acid mine water crisis in Gauteng will not be resolved because the government lacks the political will to deal with what has become a health hazard, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) says.
The federation threatened to take the government and businesses responsible for the contamination to court if they did not address the issue, which has been described as a “ticking time bomb”.
Cosatu also planned to hold protests and occupy government and companies’ offices.
Cosatu’s parliamentary coordinator Matthew Parks has accused the departments of mineral resources, water and sanitation and environmental affairs of not having coherent plans in their budget votes announced last week to deal with the deepening crisis. He warned the three department to apply the law.
“The department of water and sanitation is obliged by the constitution to protect the water resources, yet it has done little in this regard. The department of environmental affairs is obliged by the National Environmental Management Act to intervene in such criminal acts, but again it has failed to deal with this crisis.”
Recent news reports showed acid mine water was polluting the province’s rivers and drinking water, and threatened the health of its population.
It was reported that millions of litres of acid mine water were rising rapidly under Johannesburg, threatening to flood the lower levels of the Gold Reef City area.
There were fears the water could surface shortly, which could be a health hazard for residents of Johannesburg and surrounding areas and affect the environment.
The union federation said mining houses had long been polluting water supplies. According to Cosatu, the problem affected other mining towns in other provinces too.
“This has become a ticking time-bomb that threatens not only scarce water supplies to Gauteng, North West and surrounding communities, but the health and lives of millions living there. More than a quarter of South Africa’s population may now be at risk.”
Parks said the department of mineral resources has not shown any intention to hold the mining houses to account, to stop the pollution by withdrawing the offenders’ mineral rights or to prosecute them.
But he said the department was compelled to act against the mine companies in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act.