The SADC’s mining curse

Ineffective monitoring of mining operations, policy implementation and environmental factors have rendered mining a curse for the South African Development Community (SADC) region, according to the Bench Marks Foundation.

Bench Marks, which monitors performance in the corporate social responsibility field, highlighted the threat of acid mine drainage, and the impact of mine closures and completions on the water system.

“With abandoned mines and water pumping systems that are not functioning, un-drained aquifers are refilling with acidic water,” executive director John Capel told a meeting attended by government representatives and mining houses in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

“Much of the mine waste also contains heavy metals. Radioactive waste washes off these dumps into streams that flow through heavily populated areas such as Soweto. The air is also filled with dust containing silica and radioactive waste.”

The National Treasury allocated R225-million over the next three years to deal with acid mine drainage in Gauteng. Water experts have said that this would not be enough to deal with the damage.

“I don’t know what they are going to do with that, but that is not nearly enough,” Koos Pretorius of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment told Business Day.

The Bench Marks Foundation also found that corporations, particularly those involved in mining, still had a long way to go before they could be considered good corporate citizens.

“Profits are still put above everything else. Sustainable development is very rarely considered. Communities’ voices are still ignored,” said Capel.

Capel said that the foundation’s research in SADC member countries found that poor capacity at all levels — government, companies, communities and civil society — had been the catalyst of major problems within the mining sector.

“Air and water quality is another grave concern,” Capel added. “In South Africa, the commissioning of old coal-fired power stations and the building of new coal-fired power stations will result in an increase in pollution. The targets set by the government for new renewable energy sources are too low.”

National power utility Eskom is building two coal-fired power stations — Medupi in Lephalale, Limpopo, and Kusile in Delmas, Mpumalanga.

The Department of Energy recently promulgated the Integrated Resource Plan, which aims to see the country generate 9% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. — I-Net Bridge

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