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Human Rights Day in Davidsonville on the West Rand: Living with Acid Mine Drainage

20 March 2015 at 9:28 am

An Acid River Runs Through ItOn Saturday, 21 March 2015, the Centre for Environmental Rights will be in Davidsonville on the West Rand in Johannesburg participating in the launch of an outdoor photography exhibition by photographer Eva-Lotta Jansson. The exhibition portrays acid mine drainage and its effects on water sources and communities in South Africa.

The community event marks Human Rights Day in South Africa, and World Water Day.

Acid mine drainage: What happens when polluters don’t have to pay?

Acid mine drainage (AMD) occurs when water flows over sulphide minerals exposed by mining. The minerals oxidise in the presence of water and oxygen, causing the water to become acidic. The acidic water then dissolves other toxic metals. Exposure and oxidation of pyrite and other sulphide minerals occur in mine wall rocks, backfill, waste rock piles, low grade ore stockpiles and tailings deposits. In and around South African gold mines, pyrite (FeS2) present in gold ore dissolves on oxidation and releases iron and sulphuric acids.

AMD has been described as the largest single environmental problem facing the mining industry, particularly because it is persistent and costly, and tends to be a liability for mines long after they cease to operate. AMD is a worldwide problem.

In South Africa, government has belatedly begun to implement measures to treat acid mine drainage from gold mines in Krugersdorp west of Johannesburg, and Germiston and Springs on the East Rand. Civil society organisations like the Federation for a Sustainable Environment and Earthlife Africa Johannesburg have criticised these measures as inadequate, not only in terms of volume of water treated, but also in relation to the type of treatment used.

The cost of mitigation of AMD in the Witwatersrand gold fields alone has been estimated at R10 billion by the Department of Water and Sanitation. Government has borne the bulk of these costs so far, and little or no effort has been made by government to hold mining companies and their directors liable for historic pollution.

Unfortunately, the impacts and costs of AMD are still not adequately considered in the granting of new mining rights, including in the many rights for new coal mines granted in Mpumalanga. Here, the effects of new AMD are already evident. Until the risks of AMD are adequately taken into account in the granting of new rights, and mining companies forced to pay for the clean-up costs, the problem of AMD will worsen and persist indefinitely.

The struggles of the Davidsonville community

Davidsonville, near Roodepoort on the West Rand, is a community that has been struggling for many years with the effects of an abandoned and unrehabilitated mine dump on its doorstep. Acid water seeps from under the ground in and below a park where children play, and in winter fine dust from the mine dump blows through the small town, aggravating residents’ respiratory conditions. The CER (and the Legal Resources Centre before us) represented activists from Davidsonville for several years in attempts to get the Department of Mineral Resources and the City of Johannesburg to implement measures to deal with the communities’ concerns. In 2014, some of these measures finally began to be implemented.

Outdoor photography exhibition: Event details

The programme for the launch of the photography exhibition includes a Q&A session with the Centre for Environmental Rights, and a tour of the rehabilitation operations at the mine dump. The winners of a drawing competition on “My Environment,” for local primary school children, will also be announced.

The event, organised by photographer Eva-Lotta Jansson, will be held in coordination with the CER, Johannesburg Ward 71 Councillor Gert Niemand, and the Ford Foundation for Southern Africa.

1 pm for 1:30 pm, Saturday, March 21, 2015, Manuel Street Park, Davidsonville

Manuel Street, near corner of Edward Mitchell Street, in Davidsonville, Roodeport West, JHB; GPS coordinates: S 26.15744, E27.85508

Please bring family and friends. To participate in additional activities on March 21, it could be useful to bring a picnic blanket, some lunch, and good shoes. In case of rain, the show will go on, so please come with an umbrella.

The pop-up exhibition will be on display until 4pm, Sunday, March 22.

Read a summary of some of CER and civil society organisations’ interventions around AMD between 2009  and 2011.

Read more about the CER’s work on water and sewage contaminated water.