In the 1960s South African gold mines earned £400 million per year, while government earned £500 million in taxes, according to environmental rights activist Mariette Liefferink.
On 8 September and numerous others affected by South African mining joined forces at Lanseria Airport to form an as-yet-unnamed new national environmental organisation. The steering committee comprises scientists, experienced environmental managers and practitioners, activists and advocates.
Due to the government’s financial and human resource restraints, mining companies have historically been permitted to inflict harm upon the general public and local communities with almost complete impunity, said Liefferink, adding that this was something they continue to do. Liefferink said that she had seen the Jordaan report, which was published in the 1960s. “At that stage government allowed sinkhole formation to maximise mining profits.” “When mines start mining, they externalise the costs and this leads to long-term problems, such as destroying agricultural potential.
The true cost of this can only be determined once a mine is closed down,” Liefferink said. Aggrieved farmers and disempowered local communities within the mining areas are key issues the new body will look at. “We will call for the enforcement of the polluter-pays principle, in terms of the National Environmental Management Act,” said. “Although it may have been profitable for mining companies to abuse, harm and exploit in the short term, in a constitutional democracy that is not a sustainable strategy.” “White farmers are not the only ones affected.
Farmworkers and smaller communities especially are hit hard by this,” one of the farmers stated. T he meeting agreed that the security of tenure and access to clean water of the local communities and farmers were still being prejudiced, and that the affected communities’ constitutional right to a safe and healthy living environment continued to be violated. Although the profits of mining operations have accrued to shareholders, most of them live overseas, while most South Africans see little if any direct economic benefit from mining, Liefferink said.
She added that environmentalism, socialism and economic justice had become intertwined. George Bizos, head at the Legal Resource Centre, pledged to support the organisation. He will not join the organisation formally because, as he put it, they will need him in court when there are constitutional or human rights violations. he organisation may pursue interdicts and class actions. It will also pursue evidence of infraction of environmental regulations, which will be submitted to organs of state, and consult affected parties at grassroots level. Improving awareness and the education and mobility of local communities will be another point of concern.
Lastly, in a spirit of cooperation, the newly formed body would inform Cabinet of unconstitutional aspects of legislation, particularly pertaining to social, sustainability and water issues. – Susan Botes