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MINERALS AND ENERGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
20 March 2002
BRIEFING BY DEPARTMENT AND PRESENTATIONS BY CHAMBER OF MINES AND NATIONAL UNION OF MINEWORKERS ON ENVIROMENTAL ISSUES; ADOPTION OF COMMITTEE PROGRAMME AND THE ERMDEC REPORT
Chairperson: Mr R. Mofokeng
Documents handed out:
Briefing Document on environmental issues relating to the mining industry
International Environmental Considerations and The Global Role of Mining (Chamber of Mines)
Environmentally Related Issues to Mining: A NUM Perspective
Minerals and Energy PC Programme: April - June 2002
(Copies of the documents which are currently available in electronic format can be found on our website)
The Department briefed the Committee on environmental issues as it relates to the mining industry. The Committee was given an overall picture of their efforts in trying to create awareness of environmental concerns that have arisen due to the lack of diligence on the part of the mining industry. The Chamber of Mines and the National Union of Mineworkers respectively presented their views and perspectives on environmental issues to the Committee. The Committee also adopted the ERMDEC Report and the Committee Programme.
Environmental issues relating to the mining industry
The Department briefed the Committee on their efforts relating to addressing environmental issues in the mining industry. Ms E. Swart and Mr J. Rocha were the representatives from the Department. Ms Swart highlighted the fact that in the past there had been a lack of environmental awareness in the industry. She stated that at present an Environmental Management Programme was in place to see to it that mines comply with environmental requirements. The proposed Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Bill was to provide the legislative framework within which mines would have to comply with environmental requirements.
Ms Swart also noted that the Department had a national strategy for the rehabilitation of derelict and onerous mines. The need for the strategy arose due to the fact that many communities had settled in and around mines whether they were active or not.
Mr S. Blanche (FA) asked what the estimated cost for the rehabilitation of onerous mines was.
Ms Swart noted that cost estimates were only available for the rehabilitation of asbestos mines, as the Department had only been engaged in their rehabilitation. No cost estimates existed for the rehabilitation of gold and coal mines.
Mr B. Bell (DP) asked why had asbestos mines been rehabilitated when they were situated in very remote areas. He asked why had gold and coal mines not been rehabilitated.
Ms Swart stated that communities have also settled in and around asbestos mines. The reason for their rehabilitation had been the huge incidences of health problems that had arisen as a result of asbestos poisoning.
Ms N. Mtsweni (ANC) asked how the rehabilitation of mines was prioritized.
Ms Swart pointed out that the decision to rehabilitate particular asbestos mines were done on a scientific basis. Various criteria were used in prioritizing rehabilitation programmes. She however noted that the Department did not have similar criteria for the rehabilitation of gold and coal mines. Mr Rocha alluded to the fact that the Department did not as yet have a coherent strategy for the rehabilitation of gold and coal mines.
Prof I. Mohamed (ANC) asked where the asbestos from dumps were taken to when they were removed. He also asked what types of hazardous chemicals were used in the stabilizing of mines.
Ms Swart said that mine dumps were not removed but that they were merely leveled and covered with a layer of topsoil. Thereafter the soil was vegetated to match the surrounding area. She emphasised that the site would remain a hazardous site.
Ms Swart stated that she was unaware of any hazardous chemicals that were used in the stabilizing of mines but that she would investigate the matter and provide the committee with an answer at a later time.
Mr Dlali (ANC) asked whether the industry had changed its behaviour on environmental issues. He asked what steps had been taken by the Department to see to it that the industry complies with legislation.
Mr Dlali additionally asked how stakeholders were contributing to the whole process.
Ms Swart said that internationally mining industries were self regulating but the same could not be said about the situation in South Africa. The mining industry in SA was far from self-regulatory and much work was needed to change behavioral patterns.
Mr Rocha noted that even if SA had the best legislation in place, implementing it would be a far greater challenge.
Ms Swart stated that stakeholder participation was encouraged and that a standing committee was in place to facilitate it.
Mr S. Louw (ANC) asked if mechanisms were in place to check on whether the Environmental Management Programme had been complied with. He asked if inspectors were used to check on its compliance.
Ms Swart noted that inspectors were used but that capacity limitations hampered their work. The Department was in the process of implementing a computer system to facilitate the process.
Mr G. Mpufane (National Union of Mineworkers) asked whether health compensation to sick mineworkers were included in the costs of rehabilitating mines.
The Chair stated that the question would have to remain unanswered, as it was not accepted parliamentary procedure for a non-member to pose a question to a presenter.
Chamber of Mines (COM)
Dr J. Kilani conducted the presentation. The Chamber of Mines was committed to trying to raise awareness of the importance of preserving the environment whilst at the same time maintaining the importance of mining to sustainable development. Dr Kilani alluded to the fact that whilst many international conventions and environmental groups promote the importance of the environment, many do not give enough credit to the mining industry for their efforts in trying to preserve the environment. He added that many of the countries that were the forerunners in environmental awareness campaigns do not appreciate the importance of mining to sustainable development; this was due to the fact that mining activities were non-existent in these countries. The Chamber of Mines had a two pronged response in that it firstly wished to promote responsible mining in South Africa and secondly that it hoped to create alliances with government and international institutions on issues that were of importance to all stakeholders. It was also felt that the proposed Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Bill would go a long way to address many of the environmental problems that were present in the industry.
Mr Blanche asked if the Chamber had the intention of taking control of forums in Gauteng or do NGO's play a bigger role.
Dr Kilani said that the Chamber had no intention to take control of any of the forums. The forums were open to everyone and it allowed for participation by all.
Prof Mohamed said that he had problems with trying to get into contact with mines in his constitutency to highlight problems to them but hoped that relations would improve in the future.
Dr Kilani conceded that the mining industry had a bad track record historically but said that it was necessary to look ahead and to encourage the fostering of greater partnerships so that meaningful solutions could be found for the problems that existed.
National Union of Mineworkers (NUM)
Mr G. Mpufane and colleague represented the union. The union presented the Committee with an overview of its objectives and its areas of focus. The perspective was mainly from that of mineworkers and the issues that were of relevance to them. The union felt that the government had a major role to play in the protection of mineworkers' rights especially as it relates to environmental issues.
Ms Swart commented that she did not appreciate the fact that NUM was giving the impression that the Department was neglecting their responsibilities.
Mr Blanche noted that communities should become more involved in the rehabilitation of mines.
Mr S. Mongwaketse stated that small-scale mines in his constituency were not being properly rehabilitated. He felt that greater education on rehabilitation of small-scale mines should take place.
The Chair presented a revised report to the Committee. The concerns of Mr Blanche in the previous meeting had now been addressed.
The committee unanimously adopted the report.
Minerals and Energy Committee Programme: April - June 2002
The Committee unanimously adopted the Programme.
The meeting was adjourned.
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