Archive for June, 2012

Why do I care?

June 25, 2012

In 1974 I landed in South Africa, bright eyed and bushy tailed with a passion to defeat Apartheid, since going to the USSR and defeating Communism was too daunting.  Well, I should have realised that my then husband was not going to make this easy and he didn’t. He was scared y authority and my parents, who have preceded us, were no better.

However, I had landed in this country and felt my feet rooted into the ground.  I had come home. Africa is my land and where I wish to be.  So much so that I have never left it since the 4th June 1974.  Its tentacles bind me to the soil.

It is the most mesmorising continent.  Great wealth and great poverty exist side by side.  Huge injustices are condoned and fought.  Great mineral wealth is exploited at the expense of water and food.  Human health is sacrificed on the altar of profit.  Animals are destroyed for gain and species are lost for greed.

Human life is discounted.  Rulers are despots and unaccountable even in democracies.

However, the new generation is aware of this and they are questioning and will begin the change that must come.  This is the paradox of Africa – tradition versus change.  This new generation realises that tradition is not making Africa richer but making it poorer.  This is not what should be happening and they are questioning it and will change it.

This enlivens me because these young people are our future.  We have hope and creativity. We have solutions.  And that is special

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Water scarce and being made scarcer

June 24, 2012

In South Africa, we are water scarce.  Our water is constantly threatened by pollution from industry, agriculture and mining, especially mining waste.  In addition, people throw their waste out of their cars and buses.  We are a dirty country.  We have no self respect.

It shows up in our child rape statistics.  Our resort to violence to solve problems – which doesn’t work.  And tolerating a government which doesn’t account to its electorate.

We are committing suicide.

When are we going to call our government to account on its failures?  When are we going to respect ourselves enough to build a future?

When are we going to go out and pick up the rubbish?  Love the children and protect them?

When are we going to love ourselves more than bribes and corruption?

The overlooked cost of nuclear power

June 24, 2012

In every argument for or against nuclear power as a clean power generator, a number of significant facts are overlooked.  They are the issues around the mining and beneficiation of the fuel, one of the heaviest metals and one of the most unstable known to man.

Uranium is a deadly metal to mine as the Navajo well know to their cost.  The Navajo have won a case in the courts around compensation for the costs to their health.  You can find out more here http://www.umich.edu/~snre492/sdancy.html.

Currently research is being done in Namibia in Southern Africa on the community around the Rossing mine by CIIRAD, where considerable health problems are being experienced.

However, to bring this home to South Africa itself, we have always mined Uranium with gold on the Witwatersrand.  The uranium has been dumped onto the tailings dams as waste.  Highly dangerous and toxic waste which has been enhanced by arsenic and other toxic chemicals used to release the gold for purification.  It is the fate of the poorest to live amongst these tailings dams. They inhale the toxic dust during the Highveld windy periods and unknowingly damage their health.  Dust from these dumps has been identified in Tasmania.

Prior to sanctions being imposed, South Africa exported uranium to the western powers to fuel the arms race.  When sanctions were put into place, the uranium was disposed of onto the tailings dams increasing the toxic load and further affecting our poor communities.

What actually happens during uranium mining and processing?

For every one kilo of uranium mined, there are 99 kilos of radioactive waste rock put into tailings dams.  Radon gas is released in the process of mining, which is inhaled by the miners.  This is radioactive as well.  The miners carry dust from the mine on their clothes – this is also radioactive.  The water used to carry out the mining is polluted by radioactive toxins and has not been remediated.

We now have a huge mining waste problem in South Africa, which is made worse by the lack of signage and protection by preventing access to casual walkers.  Bricks and roads are made from the waste bringing more radioactive exposure to vulnerable communities.

This is now set to worsen as our Minister of Mineral Resources want to beneficiate uranium in order to fuel the proposed roll-out of seven nuclear power stations.

The beneficiation process produces more toxic waste and more pollution of our precious water.

The regulatory framework in South Africa is extremely weak and government is pushing for more and more destructive and irresponsible mining (the Acts are good the implementation and regulation is not).  We have many instances of deformed children; people dying of “mining related” illnesses although they have never been miners.  We have lung diseases and children dying from drinking the highly polluted water from rivers and streams.  Children with skin lesions from playing in the polluted water are sick.

The mining and nuclear companies put all illnesses down to “life style” – smoking and drinking etc, yet many affected people belong to a religious sect that enforces that their adherents neither drink nor smoke.

The human life cost in and around mining waste from uranium worldwide is enormous and overlooked.  How much longer are we going to close our eyes to this very real cost of nuclear energy?

Is it because those involved in mining are in poor countries or are the poor in wealthy ones?  If so, we are highly cynical and also prepared to sacrifice entire communities for the benefit of the wealthiest sector of society to indulge in its wellbeing.

I do not think that this is justice.