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STATEMENT BY CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS ON THE ISSUE OF ACID

MINE DRAINAGE (AMD) IN THE WITWATERSRAND BASIN – 10 DECEMBER


2009

We, being civil society organizations and individuals concerned with the
advancement of the constitutionally protected right to environment that is not
harmful to health or well-being and the right to have the environment protected for
present and future generations, state as follows:

1. We are extremely concerned about the threat to human health and well-
being, the built environment, ecosystems, agricultural land and heritage
resources posed by the potential uncontrolled decant of acid mine drainage
(AMD) in the Western, Central and Eastern Basins of the Witwatersrand Basin.
We regard this as the most significant environmental challenge facing
the region and one that requires urgent, co-ordinated action on the part
of government, the mines and civil society.

2. We are aware that government, the mines and civil society players (most
notably in the form of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment,
represented by Mariette Liefferink) have been aware of, and engaged in
finding a solution to the challenge for a number of years. Notwithstanding
this laudable commitment on the part of all players, the strategic approach
to and prospects of success in dealing with the AMD challenge on the
Witwatersrand Basin are still far from clear. With the level of AMD only
30cm below surface in the Western Basin and the flooding of the Central and
Eastern Basins imminent, we strongly believe that the time for
implementation of an effective, sustainable solution is upon us.

3. We are aware that the mines operating in the affected areas, under various
directives issued by the then Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, have
taken steps to treat the AMD which started decanting on the Western Basin in
2002. Notwithstanding these efforts, we regard the fact that the AMD was
allowed to decant as an environmental tragedy that led to extensive
damage of natural resources and exposed – and still exposes – downstream
communities to significant health risks. We state in the strongest terms that
this scenario must never be repeated – that AMD in the Central and Eastern
Basins must be maintained at an environmental critical level and not be
allowed to decant.

4. In line with the constitutional injunction that the State take reasonable
measures to prevent pollution and ecological degradation, South African
environmental policy and legislation requires that pollution and degradation
of the environment be avoided and that negative impacts on the
environment and on people’s environmental rights – including those of future
generations – be anticipated and prevented. It also institutes the State as
the public trustee of the environment and of water resources in particular,
and requires the State to protect the environment as the people’s common
heritage.

5. We believe it is therefore incumbent upon the State to implement, or to


approve the implementation of a regional solution that is technologically
feasible, financially sustainable, socially equitable and in conformance
with international standards in terms of health and environmental indicators.

6. While we fully endorse the polluter pays principle, we also acknowledge that
its application in this particular context is difficult because of the historic
failure to hold the mines accountable for their detrimental impacts on the
environment. We fear that an approach that simply directs the relatively few
remaining players in the gold mining industry to pay for the remediation of
the entire problem into perpetuity might not be feasible, delay the process of
finding a sustainable solution and ultimately lead to the State having to
assume liability for pumping and treating AMD for an indefinite time – a
situation which has already materialized on the Eastern Basin with the
Pamodzi Mine.

7. We are aware that the mining industry has collaborated in preparing a


definitive feasibility study for the establishment of a central water treatment
plant – in the form of the Western Utilities Corporation (WUC) – designed to
pump and treat AMD in the Western, Central and Eastern Basins to a potable
water standard. We have been informed that while the documentation for the
approval necessary for this project to proceed to the next stage has been
submitted, to date the State has not provided a clear indication of its
positive support. We are aware of and acknowledge criticism of the project
on technological, political and ideological grounds and are keen to engage
with government and the mining industry to find innovative solutions to
elements of the proposal that may not fulfill the requirements of
technological feasibility, financial sustainability and social equity. We are
disturbed however that to date it is the only comprehensive solution that
may be able to address the immediate threat that is in the public domain. We
are very concerned that other proposals are not being disclosed and that an
open and transparent public debate on the pros and cons of the various
options is not taking place.

8. We therefore call upon the State, in its role as custodian of our precious and
scarce water resources to disclose the various options to the problem of
AMD in the Witwatersrand Basins it is currently considering, to engage with
civil society in finding an effective solution to the problem, and to act with
a sense of urgency so as to ensure that AMD in the Central and Eastern
Basins is maintained at an environmental critical level and is not allowed to
decant.

9. We understand that a decision in these circumstances may appear politically


daunting. However, at the same time, we regard the FAILURE to take a
decision as a choice in itself for which we will also hold government
accountable.
SIGNED:

SAVE THE VAAL

Centre for Environmental Rights

Earthlife Africa Johannesburg

Endangered Wildlife Trust

Federation for a Sustainable Environment

groundWork

Lawyers for Human Rights

Legal Resources Centre

Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa

Professor Tracy Humby: School of Law, University of the Witwatersrand

Vongani Lawrence Mashava: Human Rights Activist

Florian Kroll, on behalf of the Wits Health Promotion Unit

National Association of Conservation/Stewardship of SA

North West Conservancy/Stewardship Association

Birdlife Harties

Dr. Pieter Hermanus van Eeden, a representative of EcoMonitor

South Durban Community Environmental Alliance


Johannesburg Anglican Environmental Initiative
IZWA - Institute for Zero Waste in Africa
Earthlife Africa eThekwini
Pelindaba Working Group

Potch Petitioners

Coalition Against Nuclear Energy

GeaSphere

Public Environmental Arbiters

Escarpment Environment Protection Group


Public Environmental arbiters

Escarpment Environment Protection Group

Concerned Seringveld Association

Seringveld Conservancy

National Association of Conservancies of South Africa

Hartebeestpoortdam Water Action Group

Renosterspruit Nature Conservancy

Anti Privatisation Forum

Environmental Monitoring Group

Joburg Advocacy Group