Decision on South Africa’s toxic mine drainage in sight


Pretoria – Cabinet is expected to give direction in the next two weeks on how South Africa will deal with the potential crisis posed by acid mine drainage (AMD) in Gauteng.

Environmentalists have described AMD as the single most significant threat to South Africa’s environment and as heavy rains persisted this week, fears grew that the problem may be exacerbated. But the Water Affairs Department on Thursday said a decision was looming on the matter following an Inter-ministerial Committee (IMC) meeting with Cabinet to discuss the situation.

It comes after Cabinet mandated the Minister of Water Affairs, Edna Molewa, in August to urgently establish a special task team to investigate how the government should respond to reports of acid water drainage in some parts of the country, mainly in Johannesburg.

The team of experts, chaired by Mineral Resources Department Director General, Sandile Nogcina, has handed over a list of recommendations to be considered at the next Cabinet meeting before a public announcement can be made.

“What we can say is that government is very concerned and takes this matter very seriously and at this stage the recommendations have been signed by both DGs in the Department of Water and that of Minerals and is ready for Cabinet discussion. Everyone will know the way forward in a week or so,” said spokesperson Mava Scott.

Nogcina was not immediately available for comment but Scott said once President Jacob Zuma and his executive have had an opportunity to look at the document, a public announcement will be made and all the necessary steps will be taken to avert the AMD situation.

Acid mine water, or water contaminated with heavy metals as a result of mining activities, is reportedly affecting the South Africa’s economic hub Gauteng, with other cases in Mpumalanga, North West and Free State provinces. Reports suggest that this drainage poses health and economic risks for the country.

Scientists predict that if drastic steps are not immediately taken to shut down disused mine shafts and pump out the acid mine drainage, the poisonous water will flow into rivers and low-lying areas at a rate of up to 70 megalitres a day.

Sputnik Ratau, spokesperson for the Environmental Affairs Department, said the recent floods, which have raised the levels of the toxic water in the mines, has been a cause for concern.

“We have always said that there are certain periods when the impact will be major due to rains but we are hoping that the next two weeks will provide direction on this matter – but what cabinet decides, is what cabinet decides,” he said.

As a short-term measure, an amount of R218 million was set aside by the department to fit pumps to avert any situation that might arise. – BuaNews 

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