Business

Public protector to investigate mining pollution

Kevin Crowley

Allegations of water pollution by mining operations will see the ombud probe top mining companies like Glencore Xstrata and AngloGold Ashanti.

The public protector is led by Thuli Madonsela, who was named last month as one of Time Magazine's 100 most-influential people. (David Harrison, M&G)

The anti-corruption ombud has begun a probe into water pollution allegedly caused by mining companies.

The inquiry by the public protector is in its early stages, spokesperson Oupa Segalwe said by email.

“The investigation has to do with alleged pollution of water as a result of mining operations in a number of provinces,” Segalwe said.

Scientists have found high quantities of uranium, arsenic, sulfuric acid and other toxic materials in streams and rivers in and around Johannesburg, where there has been gold mining for 130 years. The metropolis lies in the middle of the Witwatersrand basin, the source of a third of all bullion the world has yet produced. Farmers have complained of pollution from coal mines in Mpumalanga province, west of the city.

Segalwe was unable to provide more information as to which companies, state institutions or people were being investigated and declined to discuss potential outcomes.

Of the country’s working mines, almost 40% don’t have adequate funds for environmental rehabilitation, according to the government.

Companies including Glencore Xstrata operate collieries in Mpumalanga. AngloGold Ashanti, the world’s third-biggest producer of the metal, has mines in South Africa.

Criminal complaint
The Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE), an environmental lobby group, laid a criminal complaint against the directors of mining companies including AngloGold, Exxaro Resources and Glencore Xstrata because the department of water affairs allegedly failed to enforce environmental regulations, according to Mariette Liefferink, the FSE’s chief executive.

The public protector contacted the FSE after reading about the issue in a newspaper, Liefferink said.

“It’s extremely encouraging and heartening that the public protector approached us about this issue,” she said by phone on May 20.

Exxaro, the country’s third-biggest coal producer, has been approached by the police about the complaint, spokesperson Hilton Atkinson said by email on Wednesday. The FSE in 2012 laid a separate complaint about Exxaro’s Glisa coal mine outside Belfast in the Mpumalanga province that led to the department of water affairs issuing a directive against the operation, he said. The high court subsequently suspended the order, Atkinson said.

Fully co-operate
AngloGold will co-operate fully with authorities on the matter, spokesperson Chris Nthite said in an email. The complaint was laid against its mine waste solutions unit that the gold producer bought in July 2012.

“The complaints have been brought without justification,” Glencore Xstrata spokesperson Gugulethu Maqetuka said in an email. The company, which will work with authorities, said the mine in question operates within all requirements of the Water Act.

The public protector is led by Thuli Madonsela, who was named last month as one of Time Magazine‘s 100 most-influential people after finding that President Jacob Zuma unduly benefited from state-funded upgrades to his private residence. She recommended he repay the R215-million of taxpayers’ money spent on his home in Nkandla. Zuma has denied any wrongdoing. – Bloomberg

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