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Harvard report highlights human rights costs of South African gold mining

17 October 2016 at 8:30 am

Anglo American head office, Johannesburg. Picture: James Oatway for CER
Anglo American head office, Johannesburg. Picture: James Oatway for CER

Another comprehensive report, this time focused on South Africa’s gold mining sector, has identified major human rights violations caused by the environmental impacts of mining in South Africa.

On Wednesday, the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic launched a new report entitled The Cost of Gold: Environmental, Health, and Human Rights Consequences of Gold Mining in South Africa’s West and Central Rand. The 113-page report documents the threats posed by water, air, and soil pollution from mining in the West and Central Rand. Acid mine drainage has contaminated water bodies that residents use to irrigate crops, water livestock, wash clothes, and swim. Dust from mine waste dumps has blanketed communities. The government has allowed homes to be built near and sometimes on those toxic and radioactive dumps.

Examining the situation through a human rights lens, the Harvard report finds that South Africa has not fully complied with constitutional or international law. Government has not only inadequately mitigated the harm from abandoned and active mines, but it has also offered scant warnings of the risks, performed few scientific studies about the health effects, and rarely engaged with residents on mining matters.

In May 2016, CER published a report on coal mining in Mpumalanga entitled Zero Hour:  Poor Governance of Mining and the Violation of Environmental Rights in Mpumalanga. Like The Cost of Gold, Zero Hour found that Government’s failure to ensure that mining companies comply with the law is causing unprecedented environmental degradation and chronic health problems in Mpumalanga – with dire consequences for communities and South Africa’s future prosperity. The situation is the result of neglect, limited resources and wilful inaction by the Departments of Mineral Resources and Water and Sanitation.

Last week, a group of civil society and community organisations made a submission to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council in preparation for its Universal Periodic Review of South Africa, which is set to take place in Geneva, in March 2017.  Entitled The threats to human rights from mining and coal-fired power production in South Africa, this submission noted that poorly-regulated mining and coal-fired power generation in South Africa are responsible for air and water pollution, destruction of arable land, and biodiversity loss, violating the human rights of many communities, including their rights to life, health, water, food, culture and a healthy environment. Despite the human rights harms of mining and of coal-burning, the South African government is not enforcing the relevant environmental standards, and allows excessive pollution to continue. Government has also allowed the mining industry to be one of the least transparent industries in SA.

Non-profit organisation Federation for a Sustainable Environment has worked to relieve the plight of the residents of Tudor Shaft Informal Settlement, described in detail in the Harvard report, for many years.

Full media release issued by the Harvard International Human Rights Clinic.


For more information or a copy of the full report, please contact:
In Cambridge MA, Bonnie Docherty: [email protected], or +1-617-669-1636 (mobile)

For more information about the Tudor Shaft Informal Settlement, please contact: Mariette Liefferink, CEO, Federation for a Sustainable Environment, on [email protected].

For more information about Zero Hour or the UPR submission, please contact Annette Gibbs, Centre for Environmental Rights, on [email protected].