Sisulu: Third of audited mines violate conditions of water use licence

About a third of the 476 mines audited by the department of water and sanitation have failed to comply with the conditions of their water use licences.

This emerged in response to parliamentary questions by Economic Freedom Fighters MP Mathibe Rebecca Mohlala to the minister of human settlements, water and sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu on 4 December.

Sisulu said that of the 476 mines her department has audited since 2015, 155 scored below 50%.

In 2019, a Centre for Environmental Rights report found that the department had failed to monitor compliance with the water use licences of eight large coal mining operations in Mpumalanga “and to take enforcement action where violations are obvious, painting a picture of a broken national department unable to fulfil its statutory mandate of water resource protection”.

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Sisulu said that “scores of 50% or more are considered to be showing improvements in compliance. Mines that score under 50% are regarded as having an unacceptable level of compliance and are subjected to the enforcement process.”

The department regulates mining companies through water use authorisations as required by the National Water Act, which imposes conditions that promote the sustainable and beneficial use of water resources.  

Sisulu said that since April 2015, the department, she said, had issued 226 administrative actions against mines found to have contravened the National Water Act and nine criminal cases had been opened against noncompliant mines. 

“Only 52 of the 226 mines issued with administrative actions have water use authorisations. Subsequent to the enforcement actions by the [department of water and sanitation], 45 mines comply with the requirements of the administrative actions,” Sisulu said. 

“To date, no water use entitlements have been suspended or revoked due to noncompliance. However, this remains an option in case the administrative, civil and criminal processes do not achieve desired compliance.”

Mohlala had asked Sisulu for the total number of mining companies that had failed to adhere to strict water management practices, including the prevention of pollution of groundwater resources and freshwater ecosystems, and for their names.

She wanted to know whether Sisulu had considered revoking water use licences until mining companies committed to preventing water resources pollution.

Sisulu said she was prohibited by the Guide to Parliamentary Questions in the National Assembly from providing the names of people or specified companies.

Environmental justice activist Mariette Liefferink, of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, said that holders of water use licences are required in terms of the terms and conditions of their water use licences to present their water quality results at catchment management forums. This is so that downstream water users are informed of the water quality and the public to assess compliance.  

“Regrettably, only a few mines present us with their water quality results,” Liefferink said.

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Sheree Bega
Sheree Bega is an environment reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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