Archive for October, 2012

Why all South Africans have to stand up for the right to clean water

October 19, 2012

The water sources in South Africa are under severe stress from the actions of the Department of Mineral Resources and the inactions of the Department of Water Affairs, as well as the Department of the Environment.  As a result, our right, of access to clean water, is being compromised.

Already, 98% of our easily accessible water resources are being used.  They are also being polluted and made worthless.  The latest commitment to treating the Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) water is disastrously underfunded and inadequate.  The only solution being considered is neutralisation and release into the Vaal and Crocodile Rivers.  The water being released will have salinity levels of between 2000 and 2500 mg per litre.  This is way above the acceptable levels of between 100 and 600mg per litre for human use.

The government is hoping that the water released into the Vaal can be diluted by the very expensive water being pumped from Lesotho.  However, Lesotho phase 2 does not come online until 2021.  The provision of water to Gauteng becomes critical in 2015, providing we do not have a drought before then.

The high levels of saline in the river water will make agriculture impossible where it relies on irrigation.  Communities without access to piped water will be left to drink river water which is toxic to human and animal health.

When socio-economic impacts were considered, the issue of concern was not the above situation.  It was the effects that AMD may have on the Gold Reef City Mine Museum.  The right of people to clean water is ignored and not even considered in the revised strategy.

The DMR appears to believe that mining provides jobs to the communities that it affects.  MECA (Mining and Environment Community Alliance) is making proving that this is an incorrect belief a priority.  We know from the community members that livelihoods have been compromised by many mining projects.  Grazing and agricultural land, that they used, has been removed from a number of communities, leaving them destitute and jobless.  In many cases, the mining companies have negotiated with “tribal leaders” and obtained access to the land illegally.  In the rural areas, the tribal leaders are not recognised by the communities that they claim to represent.  This does not represent job creation but job destruction and destitution.

Vital catchments are being lost to plantations grown for paper making.  These further deplete our water resources.  Industry and commercial agriculture is allowed to pollute with very little or not action taken against the polluters.  Waste water works are inoperative and increase pollution loads in water courses with impunity.

Mining is promoted but the resources mined leave the country and not long term benefits accrue from them.  The same will happen with fracking should it go-ahead.  There has been no clear undertaking by Shell that the fracked gas will stay in South Africa.  With Shell’s historical record in Africa, it cannot be trusted to deliver a clean and trustworthy product.  With the record of DWA and DEA, regulation of the operations will not be effective.

Not only could we lose the Karoo, the SKA, the wool industry and the sheep.  We could lose all our remaining water.  This will leave the population in an extremely vulnerable situation.  Industry will cease to be able to employ anyone and South Africa will self-destruct.

Whilst this may be a “good” way in the face of declining circumstances, it is not a responsible move by government.  It fact it displays an amazing and unacceptable arrogance on the part of those we have entrusted to run our country.

Citizen action is required to prevent this scenario becoming a reality.  Already some successes have been achieved around mining in the courts.  We may have to take similar actions to protect and secure our right to water, our livelihoods and our right to life.

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