Cape Town – The slow pace of cleaning up South Africa’s abandoned mines is leading to an ecological and environmental disaster, MPs on the Standing Committee on Public Account (Scopa) said on Wednesday.
MPs launched a scathing attack on the department of mineral resources’ mine rehabilitation programme.
ANC MP Roy Ainslie said the department’s plan to rehabilitate the polluting mines was “virtually non-existent”.
“It seems it was put together yesterday because it was anticipated we would ask about an implementation plan,” he said.
“It implements structures, it talks about policy, but there is no action plan.”
Ainslie said according to his calculations, cleaning up South Africa’s 5 906 abandoned mines would take around 3 000 years if the programme continued at its current rate.
“You rehabilitated five mines in three years. That is 1.5 mines a year, but let’s give you the benefit of the doubt and say you’ve rehabilitated two mines a year.
“We have 5 906 abandoned mines. Two into 5 906 goes 2 953 years.
“My question is by when do you plan to have rehabilitated these 5 906 abandoned mines?”
Inkatha Freedom Party MP Narend Singh said the slow pace of the cleanup was leading SA to an “ecological and environmental disaster”.
“By that time we will have sink holes, we’ll have contaminated water. It will be an ecological and environmental disaster.
“It is just not on for us to be hearing here that we have a serious problem in this country with abandoned mines and it is going to take that long to recover.”
DA MP Marke Steele said the department had known of the potential crisis for years.
“In the 2002 the MPRD Act (Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act 28 of 2002) was passed, so the department knew what was coming. In 2004 the act came into effect.”
He said in 2006 the department had instructed the department of geosciences to develop a national strategy for abandoned mines in SA.
The cost of the cleanup was estimated at R30bn. The amount was included in financial statements of the department as “a contingent liability” in the financial years 2007/08 and 2008/09.
“Every year the department had a contingent liability of R30bn for the cost of rehabilitating mines,” Steele said. “It knew what was coming.”
Steele laid into mineral resources director general Sandile Nogxina‘s “inactivity and incompetence” in dealing with the issue.
“I want to know, chair, who was the DG in office in all of this time of inactivity when it came to planning and total incompetence, when it came to preparing for what everybody knew was going to happen – there was going to be a crisis.
“Who do we hold accountable for not planning properly? I think we will follow with executive authority over this total failure to plan responsibly.”
“The DG then was Sandile Nogxina – myself,” Nogxina replied.
He agreed that the department had seen the crisis coming.
“I agree, all this time we saw this coming. What we did may have been inadequate, but I don’t agree nothing was done in order to address the issue.”
He said the department did not have a long-term plan to rehabilitate mines.
“The plan we have is a plan that covers this financial year.
“We are going to come up with a long term plan that will enable us to understand how long it will take us to rehabilitate all those 6 000 ownerless and derelict mines.”
Nogxina said holding mining houses responsible for cleaning up the mines was “a serious problem”.
Life and death
“Morally they are obliged to do it. Unfortunately the kind of legal dispensation we had at the time when they generated this kind of problem was not holding them accountable for that.
“So there is a legal dispute between those people and the government because they are saying that when they operated those mines at the time, the law did not require them to do what we require them to do right now.”
Scopa chair Themba Godi said the rehabilitation of the mines had to be given “absolute priority”.
“We want to have this element given absolute priority, otherwise it might render everything else we do pointless,” he said.
“Building RDP houses, building hospitals and schools for communities around affected areas will be wasted expenditure if those areas are going to become difficult to live in.
“It is a life and death problem.”
The chair of the portfolio committee on minerals, Mpumelelo Frederick Gona, said cleaning up the mines could “never be the sole responsibility of the government”.
He said he would allow the department space to deal with the Chamber of Mines “to determine what role they will play in dealing with the problem”.
“It would be foolhardy to expect money to come out of coffers of government,” he said.