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Newsflash: CER responds to Chamber of Mines’ criticism of Zero Hour

21 September 2016 at 5:31 am

August 27, 2016. Tudor Shaft informal settlement is situated on a former mine. Residents are exposed to radiation and many other toxic side effects from living here. A
August 27, 2016. Tudor Shaft informal settlement is situated on a former mine. Residents are exposed to radiation and many other toxic side effects from living here. A "Toxic Tour" of environmental damage due to mining on Johannesburg's West Rand. Picture: JAMES OATWAY for the Centre of Environmental Rights (CER).
August 27, 2016. Tudor Shaft informal settlement is situated on a former mine. Residents are exposed to radiation and many other toxic side effects from living here. A "Toxic Tour" of environmental damage due to mining on Johannesburg's West Rand. Picture: JAMES OATWAY for the Centre of Environmental Rights (CER).

Residents of Tudor Shaft informal settlement on Johannesburg’s West Rand. Photo: James Oatway for CER.

In May 2016, the CER published Zero Hour, a study highlighting the poor governance of mining and the violation of environmental rights in Mpumalanga. The Chamber of Mines of South Africa wrote to the CER in July 2016 to “register the objections” of the Chamber and its members to the report.

The Chamber of Mines is a mining industry employers’ organisation that supports and promotes the South African mining industry. It has 69 members.

CER replied to the Chamber’s letter earlier this month. In response to the Chamber’s complaint that it and its members should have been consulted before publication, the CER inter alia points out that some of the Chamber members mentioned in Zero Hour have had extensive engagement with the CER, our clients and partners over a long period of time around particular mining operations described in Zero Hour. Others have refused or ignored attempts to engage. We invite the Chamber to share with us information about those aspects of the report in relation to which the accuracy is challenged, as the Chamber does not provide any support for these claims in its July 2016 letter.

The Chamber acknowledges that the One Environmental System for mining faces various implementation challenges, but states that it “believes are receiving the necessary attention from authorities”. “Given the fact that the DMR has always been the only ministry with a proven track record in terms of regulating environmental matters in the mining industry it would have been helpful if the CER report had recommended a pragmatic approach detailing how the DMR’s capacity could be improved”.

For the reasons described in detail in Zero Hour, the CER contends the DMR’s “proven track record” is in fact one of consistent failure to carry out effective compliance monitoring and enforcement of the environmental impacts of the mining industry. Our observations on the ground are that DMR officials are inaccurately interpreting NEMA, failing to carry out compliance monitoring and enforcement activities in relation to allegations of serious breaches of environmental laws by mining companies, and ignoring attempts to engage them on these issues. We continue to see poor and unlawful decisions being made in relation to the granting of mining rights. The famed Mining and Biodiversity Guideline, purportedly adopted and embraced by the mining industry, appears to have had no impact in stemming the tide of applications for prospecting and mining rights in or near protected areas, World Heritage Sites, national parks and nature reserves – including by members of the Chamber.

Moreover, Zero Hour contains a set of detailed and practical recommendations for improvement of regulatory capacity to improve realisation of environmental rights.

The Chamber’s letter and CER’s reply can be viewed in our Virtual Library.

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