The South African War Against Mine Waste

And how deprived South Africans fight this war midst a storm of polluted dust Bordering Johannesburg’s mining belt, lays Soweto, an English syllabic abbreviation for South Western Townships. Home of many removed black South Africans; Soweto was a former alienated area, which saw the increasing population of evicted –black- Africans by state authorities, before and during the apartheid regime. Hence becoming a concentrated area of black working force for the emerging mining industry.

Gold and uranium mines have been both a blessing and a curse for South Africans, particularly a curse for black Africans who had been drawn to work on gold mines since the late 1880's and uranium mines since the late 1940’s.  Once the industry was established, gold and later uranium fields began to be settled with the construction of sinking channels meant for digging. Sinking these channels involves blowing up and blasting removal of materials, from rock waste, cyanided sand, surplus mine water to all sorts of chemicals to the surface of the earth.  The disposal of these residues was then simple and it presented little difficulties to miners as they mainly disposed residues in empty lands close to the treatment plants.

Considering control and legislation and going beyond basic health issues related to mine waste management, the dealings with dust storms from the mines, tailings and dumps are by far nonexistent, without even mentioning long term health problems such as asthma, skin and lung problems.

I explored the poorest and most affected areas of Soweto and was able to witness the social impacts of the lack of proper and controlled mine waste management, next to inadequate regulation and non-existent implementation of dust management. Although no scientific proof has been given to health problems related to polluted water and air, I was also  able to witness the instances of contaminated dust, exposure to radiation and the destruction of the ecosystems in areas surrounding Uranium mines and their respective dumping areas.

For this feature on Mining Waste Management I worked together with Judith Taylor co-ordinator at Earthlife Africa and Israel, a beloved Sowetan, believer of sustainable energy and volunteer at Earthlife Africa. 1

Buckets for dust sampling and management of polluted air have been placed in several risks areas of Soweto, however, non of the residents of those areas have received any information nor attention from these authorities regarding samples, solutions or developments.

 

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Israel is momentarily unemployed but as a concerned Sowetan, has volunteered for Earthlife to tackle pollution and raise awareness in his living area.

 

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Crops from locals are far from healthy as the soil is constantly being contaminated by immense acres of trailing dams that drain polluted waters. Crops hardly grow in these areas close to the mines.

 

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Skin diseases haven’t yet been proven to be linked with mine waste, but are easy to find within the population living close to the dumps. Itching and dry skin are constant nuisances for Sowetans.

 

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The only way people are able to protect themselves and their houses from rashes of dust, is by blocking their roofs and doors with newspapers and everything they can find useful.

 

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People have encountered sight problems related to dust and acid rain. Sydney (in the photo) tells us about how his eyes burn when he’s exposed to dust too much and for too long.

 

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Despite the circumstances, he carries a strong spirit and a good sense of humour.