The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) highlighted the problem of derelict and ownerless mines, stating that these mines posed a hazard to communities nearby. There had been a case of a child who fell into an open shaft which had been uncovered and they were unable to retrieve the child’s body. The problem was that the cost of closing mine holes and shafts was expensive and there was not enough funds from Treasury to complete it all in a short space of time.
The Chairperson said that this was a serious issue. The dangers affiliated with asbestos mining and the damage caused by illegal mining, could open the Department up to class action suits which could cost them more in compensating for damage caused than what Treasury is currently allocating to them to fix the problem.
The Department was advised to return with financial projections of what they would need so that the Committee could better assess the position.
Derelict and Ownerless Mine interventions
The DMRE delegation included: Mr Thabane Zulu, DMRE Director General; Chief Director, Mr Abednigo Hlungwani, Mr Garrith Bezuidenhout, Chief Director: International Coordination, Ms Thandiwe Maimane, Chief Director: Communication, Ms Lerato Ntsoko, Director: Communication.
Mr Thabane Zulu, DMRE Director General, said that there are disused mine shafts in close proximity to human settlements, and these open shafts cause dangers to nearby communities. In Gauteng, unfortunately a child fell into an open shaft this year and his body was unable to be retrieved. Such are the dangers of historical abandoned mines and the legacy of derelict and ownerless mines. The Department prioritizes those mines that are close to communities, and address all shafts close to communities.
DMRE Chief Director, Mr Abednigo Hlungwani, said that DMRE is responsible for derelict and ownerless mines and that there have been interventions by government as a whole to deal with these sites. The Departments responsible for this are Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) and Water and Sanitation.
Another challenge from gold mines and coal mines is that in these mines one finds a certain amount of acid and rainwater percolates through these contaminated areas and collects acid, and we therefore have acid mine drainage water. DMRE must deal with ownerless mine sites as indicated by the DG.
Government is taking these legacy issues seriously and appointed an inter-ministerial committee in 2010. A team of experts including scientists specializing in water pollution, said that there is a responsibility by Water and Sanitation and DMRE to deal with ingress control where water is moving towards contaminated sites, it must be diverted away from the acid area. DMRE has been affiliated with the Council for Geo-Science to direct this water away from the contaminated sites.
They are consulting with National Treasury to fund the implementation of the ingress control. There is monitoring in place to address this problem. In dealing with some treatment of contaminated areas and treatment of the water the department helps to divert the water away from some of the contaminated sites. They are waiting for funding from Treasury and discussing the issue with experts from Department of Water and Sanitation.
Removal of acid from contaminated water has been done by the DMRE. They are working on a pilot project to see if the treated water can be of value to surrounding communities. The Water and Sanitation Department, in consultation with DMRE and National Treasury, is also coming up with a waste discharge system.
Funding for AMD treatment to date has been mainly from Treasury, amounting to R2.2 billion. The process has been operational since 2014, and water has been treated and disposed of into Blesbokspruit. The process is operational in the Western and has been decanting since August 2012.
In the derelict and ownerless mine sites, the DMRS has prioritised asbestos. They focus specifically on asbestos which is outlawed as it has the capacity to cause serious lung disease that people die from this if exposed to asbestos. Scientists who have assessed state liability estimate the cost is R7.5 billion.
Between 2014 to 2019, they have sealed 209 dangerous mine shafts. As the DG indicated, there are dangerous holdings close to communities and unfortunately a child fell into an open shaft.
One challenge in dealing with derelict and ownerless mines is the problem of tampering by illegal operators. Illegal mining is a challenge in DMRE. The Cmore system is satellite based and is used at Kruger National Park, and they are able to monitor 24/7 using this system, to see if poachers are there – they can pick this up. At DMRE they are thinking that in the course of time they would map all shafts which we need to be sealed and once mapped, they will through this Cmore system be able to trace and find intruders. DMRE intends to work with the police.
In the current financial year they are going to rehabilitate three asbestos mine sites. They are committed to seal 120 mine shafts. Included in the list of completed projects are: Steelpoort, Uitkyk, Lagerdraai, Penge (on tender). Then there are others due for completion in the next financial year. He outlined the money National Treasury had allocated to DMRE for this clean-up (see document).
Ms V Malinga (ANC) asked how long it took them to seal the 284 mines shafts that have been sealed to date. Over the next two financial years they will seal only 120 shafts. She requested a report on illegal mining.
Mr K Mileham (DA) asked if going forward they are preventing mine owners from abandoning mines. What were they doing to prevent the problem with historical mines from happening going forward into the future? He asked what is being done to ensure the safety of equipment left at mines?
Ms C Phillips (DA) said that they were addressing acid mine water but she was concerned about acid leeching, which is a common way of recovering uranium. She asked if it was acid water or radioactive acid water? Were there studies on making mine water potable? There is a need to address this and make water accessible, considering the country’s water shortage.
Mr D Mthenjane (EFF) said that DMRE is doing nothing about addressing acid and asbestos. There was a list of mines, specifically in Mpumalanga, where he was getting numerous complaints from ex workers working those mines that they are still waiting to date for their money. “Remember some of us are coming from those areas where people are affected by asbestos and people come to us and want to know what happens. If you go to Leidenberg, it is a mess. People pay for this downstream, they are complaining, those mines are giving them sleepless nights, including the mines operating illegally. You cannot just pay this lip service if you are not doing those things. You know you are not doing those things [that you say you are doing]. Most mines in Mpumulanga, speak to that. You need to go to those people. You cannot get this huge budget which does not help the people on the ground. The money from Treasury is to be used to help those people. This needs special attention, not just lip service.”
He went on to say that illegal mines are a serious issue and he did not believe DMRE should work with the police to control it. He said, “Find the market. Come up with a plan to legalise it.” These people must work with government to find a solution to get it right. Arresting those illegal miners will never help. If you arrest two today, tomorrow there is ten. Socio-economic conditions are such that people are hungry. They are illegal mining because they are ex mineworkers, they are experts at what they are doing. They know what they doing. Call them. Ask what the department can do for them. Work with them . “Leave out the police. It won’t work”.
Ms N Hlonyane (EFF) referred to the 245 asbestos sites and asked if those are the only ones in the country or if there are more. We hear about money spent on closing the shafts, but how much are mine owners coughing up? Are they going after the mine owners to ensure they pay something towards rehabilitation.
She asked if DMRE has an educational programme for people who stay in these areas so they can understand what they must do to be safe there. Communities that live there have to be educated to understand.
How much money are you requesting from Treasury? She commented that in Steelpoort, Limpopo, the Department of Water must make a study as the water there is undrinkable. It is a mining town and the people there have to buy water although they are very poor.
Mr J Bilankulu (ANC) asked if one can this problem is due to apartheid and the history of mining in this country. Mining has deferred this legacy to the current generation. What is your plan to ensure future generations do not inherit it. On the challenges of illegal mining, DMRE is moving from lip service to action. They have a programme to deal with this challenge. His question is on the approach DMRE wants to take, as in Kruger National Park. DMRE wants to map all the mines. He wants to understand how feasible this programme is.
Mr Bilankulu said derelict and ownerless mines is another problem. How costly will such an exercise be? Mining on its own is a very complex industry. How do you ensure this approach covers all elements in the mining space. He asked in which areas are the 245 asbestos sites dominant and what approach is used to deal with this challenge.
Director General response
Mr Thabane Zulu, DMRE Director General, said DMRE found it to be more appropriate to give the responsibility to Mintek and allow Council for Geo-science to focus on investment in exploration. They are trying to give responsibilities to the different entities to optimise what they want to achieve as a Department. There was a distinction between shafts and holes. It is easier to seal mine holes but shafts require more effort.
There are close to 6000 derelict and ownerless mines, where you have abandoned mine shafts and holes. For current mines, with the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) coming into effect in 2002, it has a provision that any mining company DMRE gives a right to, that company must give a certain amount, reviewed annually, for rehabilitation. On the question about uranium, before this fell under the Department of Energy, but now we are one department, we work very closely to monitor radioactive waves.”
He agreed that although there is an abundance of water in some places, there are water shortages in other areas. They do have a plan in place about making the water potable, and this was a good point.
To Mr Mthenjane, Mr Zulu replied that DMRE is trying to be scientific in its approach. It did not come here with information that is not verified. “This is what we have done, plan to do and what the challenges are.” DMRE was here to account for what they have committed to in their plan and to note the challenges raised.
Mr Zulu replied that DMRE has to deal with derelict and ownerless mines. The case presented here is work done to date in addressing challenges of illegal mining. He agreed that DMRE should bring a report to the Committee on illegal mining. What must be borne in mind about illegal mines is that most people involved in illegal mining are not South Africans. This point must be taken into account. There are South Africans involved too but DMRE alone cannot do this without the police. DMRE is hard at work in dealing with this challenge.
He replied about the money owed to miners by mining companies, saying that this was a separate discussion, as it is a separate matter from the data presented today.
Chief Director response
DMRE Chief Director, Mr Abednigo Hlungwani, replied that to date, they have rehabilitated a few mines over a five to ten year period. One rehabilitation project is due for completion in November. The minimum cost per site for rehabilitation ranges between R40 to R60 million.
Asbestos mine sites are especially challenging as they are situated in mountainous terrain. Unfortunately the cost to reach the site to rehabilitate is expensive, therefore a large amount of money is spent on that. This is why over the past 10 years they could not move on this due to the cost constraints from Treasury.
Slide 10 talks to the 284 shafts sealed to date, versus the 120 to be sealed in the next two financial years. DMRE together with Mintek have come up with a different approach to seal the holes and to deal with people tampering with these. Previously they would seal two shafts in one province, and then in another province. However, as shafts are interconnected underground, it is best to concentrate on one area at a time. Therefore the bulk is in one area, as opposed to how it was done previously, so the approach is somewhat different now.
Mr Hlungwani replied that they were aware of what is happening in Mpumulanga and mineworkers facing challenges to obtain compensation. We have received their requests, application forms, but we are aware it is not only the one mine.
Are there only 245 asbestos mine sites? Mr Hlungwani replied that DMRE has identified them and these 245 are the ones embargoed from mining. Yes, there are 245 identified.
He said that it is not only DMRE that is responsible for the education of communities on safety and dangers.
How much money are we requesting from National Treasury? There is a cost estimate of approximately R48 billion. That is the amount that they would like.
On the question on apartheid spatial planning, previously there was the Mine and Works Act of 1956. So yes, it is indirectly from the apartheid programme.
Follow up questions and comments
The Chairperson said that the Department needs to go and see the illegal mining. We can only deal with illegal mining when we are there. It is not only the zama zamas. With the child going through a sinkhole, now you have a duty to close this derelict ownerless mine. We still have to seal 6000 mines and need R48 billion. If we go at this pace we can only do one to three a year so how many years will it take to get through half of what we supposed to do? Secondly, what criteria do we use? We must use it as a priority. Tomorrow you are in Gauteng and somebody’s house sinks. This was never taken seriously, there is a need to think in advance. The motivation you use is about money, it is not about life. We should know where these budget cuts are going or we will never achieve what we want to achieve. Your report should tell us the reality of what we are facing and the consequences of derelict mines. One day we will find FNB stadium is no more because of where it is, it is a disaster in waiting. We are told the N3 is in a similar situation. What are we dealing with? In Newcastle we had to relocate a school because of illegal mining. Does Treasury understand what you are dealing with? That R140 million may end up being used as compensation for a disaster. Call and ask Treasury how do we deal with this problem. He suggested that DMRE quantify the total cost for rehabilitating 6000 derelict and ownerless mines. The Chairperson wanted DMRE to confirm that the law does not apply retrospectively. On finances, when you say you need R48 billion, you will not get it, it is a dream but can you do a calculation, how much on average you will for the budget.
Ms Phillips said the DG did not understand her question. She was talking about naturally occurring uranium that forms acid leeching, yellow cake. If you have acid water then uranium then leaks into this.
Mr Mthenjane made a comment about business rescue mines where people are passing right through security to do illegal mining. With business rescue mines, DMRE should be allowed to investigate why the previous owner is allowed a delay in handing over the mine to new investors. Perhaps this business rescue is delayed because they are getting something there. He asked DMRE to please do its own investigation.
Ms Hlonyana asked what steps are being taken with mining companies since 2002. She said DMRE seemed to be throwing the problem at the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries. It must not be thrown at them. On the child that went missing, she asked what support was given to the family and how it ended.
Director General response
Mr Thabane Zulu, DMRE Director General, replied that he has taken note of comments and inputs on the quantification of the total cost, and so they will do this exercise and package this information for the next time they brief them on derelict and ownerless mines. You cannot apply the law retrospectively, as was said.
Responding to Ms Hlonyana, we are talking of the mines from after 2002 which are responsible. We cannot do anything prior to that because the law only required them to fence the mining area after 2002. The MPRDA has this financial provision for rehabilitation so mining companies are required to comply with that.
He said that they were not pushing the responsibility to other departments, they are guided by the law. It is all one government in terms of the law, and if it is not DMRE's responsibility, they will give it to the relevant department, but they are committed to dealing with it.
Uranium can cause a serious challenge. He said that they take note of the point.
On the matter raised by Mr Mthenjane, it is not linked to the presentation, but they commit to check with the business rescue practitioners, to check on the care and maintenance of mines, they are not today's issues, but they will check.
He thanked the Committee for their advice about quantifying the cost of dealing with the 6000 derelict and ownerless mines and how to tap into limited resources. He said that it is not only about us asking for money. The current status is dangerous and posing a threat to people especially in close proximity.
The Chair said that they did not answer about the child in the Ekuhurleni incident.
The Chief Director replied that there was a rescue program to try and retrieve the child. The shaft was sealed some time ago but due to heavy rainfall, the rain removed the soil to the extent that the shaft was exposed. When the rain subsided, children played there and the child fell into the shaft. A rescue plan was conducted, but it had to be called off as the ground was unstable. A decision not to retrieve was made, then there was discussion with the family who asked for space to do rituals. That has happened. However they have not completed that process. Have we helped the community? Yes, together with Ekurhuleni municipality, we assist those concerned.
The Chairperson said that the biggest problem is that DMRE is seen as the culprit. It is true that some mining companies have changed hands over 13 times. It is true that it may not be the same company because of changing hands. Thus you cannot apply the law retrospectively, but you have to apply it from the point of application of the legislation. He thanked the DG and the team.
The Committee adopted the minutes of the previous meeting and the meeting was adjourned.
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