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Defining Moments of 2019: Revealing the truth about Mpumalanga coal mines’ water use licence violations

6 December 2019 at 1:05 pm

In July 2019, we launched the 4th report in our Full Disclosure series, this time focusing on the violations of water use licence conditions by 8 large coal mining operations in the Upper Olifants Catchment.

Full Disclosure 4, entitled How a broken regulatory system allows Mpumalanga coal mines to pollute water with impunity, revealed the complete failure by the state to monitor compliance with water use licences for the eight coal mines and to take enforcement action where violations are patently obvious, painting a picture of a broken national Department of Water & Sanitation unable to fulfill its statutory mandate of water resource protection.

This is despite the fact that the Upper Olifants Catchment, where the eight coal mines are situated, has been identified by that department as one of South Africa’s most stressed catchment areas in relation to both water quantity and quality.

In October 2019, together with partners groundWork, Vukani Environmental Movement and the South African Green Revolutionary Council, we convened a shadow Catchment Management Agency (CMA) meeting in Witbank, Emalahleni. This gathering challenged government to establish the long-anticipated CMA for the Olifants Water Management Area to allow for improved and more participatory governance of this heavily impacted catchment. It would also allow residents in the area to access information about the types of harmful pollutants affecting their health and to lodge grievances in their local areas about violations of their basic human right to safe, drinking water and a healthy environment.

In November 2019, Minister of Water & Sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu published the Water & Sanitation Master Plan, which appears to respond at least in part to many of the concerns raised by activists, civil society organisations and affected communities. CER and our partners will be tracking the implementation of this Plan closely.

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