AngloGold Ashanti has been charged with contaminating water and "ongoing pollution" in Stilfontein by the Federation for Sustainable Environment.
Mariette Liefferink, head of the federation, said she laid the charges due to repeated spillages, even after the mine had been made aware of them.
"We had to lay criminal charges after all the ongoing pollution," she said.
Liefferink said the pollution started in March last year when water leaked out of the company’s tailings dam in Stilfontein, in the North West. These are big dams where waste is kept; they should be lined so no leakage can occur, Liefferink added.
The federation approached the minister of energy and the National Nuclear Regulator. The minister issued a directive against the mine, but then retracted it, Liefferink said.
Their application to the minister was then rejected, and the federation filed an appeal against this in December.
While this was happening “a massive spillage occurred in late December at the Stilfontein facility," Liefferink said. This convinced her that a criminal case would have to be pursued against AngloGold Ashanti, she added.
Liefferink said the water is spilling in an area of dolomitic rock, which affects the groundwater, and with the mine being some seven kilometres from the Vaal River this poses a severe health risk.
Liefferink pointed out that cattle grazing in the area are also dying from the radioactive contamination.
A recent study by the North-West University found cattle in the area had Uranium levels in their kidneys 400 times higher than cattle grazing in other areas. The levels in their livers were 4 350 times higher.
This is in contravention of Section 19 of the National Water Act, which says a company must prevent and mitigate pollution. It is also in contravention of Section 28 of the National Environmental Management Act, she said.
The federation is hoping that the directors of AngloGold will be held criminally liable and fined (a precedent set by the sentencing of Anker Coal and its director last year).
“We have exhausted all internal remedies, so this is the last way to motivate them to do the right thing,” said Liefferink.
Alan Fine, spokesperson for AngloGold Ashanti, said they had only just received notification of the charges. “We are going to need to study them first,” he said.
The Department of Energy was not yet able to comment, but its spokesperson, Lerato Ntsoko, said they would do so by tomorrow.