Acid mine drainage in the Gauteng province of South Africa : a phenomenological study on the degree of alignment between stakeholders concerning a sustainable solution to acid mine drainage

Ewart, Timothy Ian (2011-12)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2011.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Ecosystems, and the very services and resources that they provide, are fundamental to our existence. Regardless, mankind shows scant regard for the biotic and abiotic components of the environment that serve as both sources and sinks for anthropocentric demands, practices and behaviours. Of these vital resources, perhaps the one that is most under threat is water which while crucial for growth and development around the globe, is rapidly becoming a scarce commodity. In South Africa - already a water-scarce country - this situation is further compounded by mining practices that are not only unsustainable, but also largely unregulated from an environmental perspective. Mining activities have resulted in the mass exposure of iron pyrite and heavy metals, both underground and on the surface. Upon exposure to weathering, the iron pyrite gives rise to sulphuric acid, which, in turn results in the mobilisation and concentration of toxic metals. Although this is a geological phenomenon, the increasing concentrations of toxic metals as a result of mining have exposed the Gauteng province to enormous environmental, social and economic risks. Concerning the risks, the research highlighted the following: - Although comprehensive research has been found relating to the physical attributes of acid mine drainage (AMD), very little is known of the health aspects associated with AMD. Of immediate concern is, the subsequent environmental and health implications stemming from the association between living organisms and heavy metals. - In the absence of such information, the credibility of current solutions is thus questionable. Of the solutions that have been proposed, most have been reductionist in approach and have only focused on dealing with the surface decant of contaminated water from predominately non-functioning mines. The health risks associated with radioactive and highly toxic waste have been down played or simply ignored (Albrecht, 2011). - The absence of a comprehensive solution also raises questions as to the assessment and decision-making process utilised to date by the Department of Water Affairs (DWA). - Both government and the private sector have allowed the AMD threat to amplify over the years. Their inaction has been facilitated by the poor enforcement of legislation and, clever manoeuvring by mining companies, in what can only be described as a mutually beneficial relationship between government and the mining industry. In stark contrast to the inaction of government and the private sector, environmental activists have been very vocal in calling for a solution to a number of the risks associated with AMD. This, together with the recent decant of AMD in the Western Basin, has culminated in a public outcry and prompted calls for a solution to the AMD threat. Government's response to this was a narrow and incomprehensive solution, which only served to further frustrate the different stakeholder groups. Where stakeholders have different themes as to the implications and thus solutions to the AMD threat on the Witwatersrand (as driven by the profiles of the different stakeholder groups), an appropriate solution will only be realised by adopting the following recommendations: - Government must show the necessary political will, to fully engage the threat of AMD and address their poor track record as regulator - their credibility has been skewed through their vested interests in the mining industry. - Having taken ownership of the AMD threat on the Witwatersrand, government must move to avert any immediate risks to human well-being. - Under governments' leadership, the capacity of all stakeholders must be addressed to facilitate a participatory trans-disciplinary review of the assessment mechanisms and facts, in order to reach a mutually acceptable solution(s) to the social and environmental impacts associated with mining activities - a solution that will ensure future environmental integrity, social development and economic growth.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Ekosisteme, en die dienste en hulpbronne wat dit voorsien, is grondliggend aan die mensdom se bestaan. Tog toon die mensdom weinig respek vir die biotiese en abiotiese komponente van die omgewing, hoewel ons met ons behoeftes, praktyke en gedrag daarop staatmaak én daaraan afbreuk doen. Van hierdie lewensnoodsaaklike hulpbronne is die mees bedreigde waarskynlik water, wat – hoewel dit vir groei en ontwikkeling wêreldwyd van deurslaggewende belang is – spoedig besig is om ʼn skaars kommoditeit te word. In Suid-Afrika, wat in elk geval ʼn waterarm land is, word hierdie toedrag van sake vererger deur mynboupraktyke wat nie net onvolhoubaar is nie maar ook ongereguleerd. Mynboubedrywighede het gelei tot die massablootstelling van ysterpiriet en swaarmetale, sowel ondergronds as op die oppervlak. Wanneer ysterpiriet chemies verweer, vorm dit swawelsuurwater, wat op sy beurt toksiese metale mobiliseer en konsentreer. Hoewel dít ʼn geologiese verskynsel is, het hierdie verhoogde konsentrasies as gevolg van mynbou die Gautengprovinsie aan enorme omgewings-, maatskaplike en ekonomiese risiko’s blootgestel. Wat die risiko’s betref, beklemtoon hierdie studie die volgende: - Hoewel omvattende navorsing oor die fisiese kenmerke van suur mynwater (“acid mine drainage” – AMD) onderneem is, is weinig bekend oor die gesondheidsaspekte wat daarmee gepaardgaan. Wat tot dusver van onmiddelliker belang was, was die omgewings- en gesondheidsimplikasies wat daaruit voortvloei wanneer lewende organismes aan swaarmetale blootgestel word. - In die afwesigheid van sodanige inligting is die geloofwaardigheid van huidige oplossings dus twyfelagtig. Die meeste van die oplossings wat voorgestel is, is reduksionisties van aard en beklemtoon slegs die hantering van besoedelde water wat op die oppervlak uit hoofsaaklik onaktiewe myne sypel. Die gesondheidsgevare wat met radio-aktiewe en hoogs toksiese afval gepaardgaan, word geheel en al onderspeel of bloot misgekyk (Albrecht, 2011). - Die gebrek aan ʼn omvattende oplossing laat ontstaan ook vrae oor die beoordelings- en besluitnemingsprosesse wat die Departement van Waterwese oor die jare sowel as meer onlangs gevolg het. - Sowel die regering as die privaat sektor het toegekyk hoe die bedreiging deur suur mynwater oor die jare vererger. Dié gebrek aan optrede is aangehelp deur swak wetstoepassing sowel as slimmer bewimpeling deur mynboumaatskappye in wat eenvoudig as ʼn wedersyds voordelige verhouding tussen die regering en die mynboubedryf beskryf kan word. In skrille kontras met die regering en privaat sektor se traagheid het omgewingsaktiviste nog nooit geskroom om hul stem te verhef en op oplossings vir baie van hierdie risiko’s aan te dring nie. Dít, tesame met die onlangse uitvloei van suur mynwater in die Westelike Kom, het op openbare protes uitgeloop en aanleiding gegee tot oproepe om ʼn oplossing vir die bedreiging van suur mynwater. Die regering se antwoord hierop was ʼn eng, beperkte oplossing wat die verskillende belangegroepe slegs verder frustreer het. Aangesien belangegroepe (in ooreenstemming met hul uiteenlopende profiele) verskillende aspekte van die implikasies van – en dus ook die oplossings vir – die bedreiging van suur mynwater aan die Witwatersrand beklemtoon, sal ʼn toepaslike oplossing gevind word slegs deur die volgende aanbevelings te aanvaar: - Die regering moet die nodige politieke wil toon om die bedreiging van suur mynwater ten volle die hoof te bied, en moet daadwerklik verbeter op sy swak prestasiegeskiedenis as reguleerder, waarin hy heelwat geloofwaardigheid ingeboet het vanweë regeringsbelang by die mynboubedryf. - Nadat die regering sy verantwoordelikheid rakende die bedreiging van suur mynwater aan die Witwatersrand aanvaar het, moet hy dringend optree om enige onmiddellike gevare vir menslike welstand te voorkom. - Onder leiding van die regering moet die vermoëns van alle belanghebbendes betrek word ten einde ʼn deelnemende, kruisdissiplinêre beoordeling van die meganismes en feite te onderneem, om sodoende (ʼn) wedersyds aanvaarbare oplossing(s) vir die maatskaplike en omgewingsimpak van mynboubedrywighede te bedink – ʼn oplossing wat die integriteit van die omgewing, maatskaplike ontwikkeling en ekonomiese groei sal verseker.

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