Legal issues concerning mine closure and social responsibility on the West Rand

20 January 2011

Mining and, especially, gold and uranium mining have played a major role in the economy, history, and demography of South Africa. The contribution of the mines to the economy of South Africa over the past century has been overvalued, while the social injustices and negative environmental impacts that accompanied mining have been underplayed or ignored by the mining houses and government. The environmental situation has worsened significantly over the past few years due to the abandonment and pending closure of most of these mines. A reluctance is perceived on the part of the mining companies, and even government, to take responsibility for the damage caused by pollution, ecological degradation, and impact on human health by mining. Instead, the current informal policy appears to take smaller companies to court on minor environmental injustices to, perhaps, impress the broader public, while one of the biggest environmental concerns is stylishly treated. The inability of government to address the damage by mines effectively is in conflict with the National Water Act, the National Environmental Management Act, the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Act, the National Nuclear Regulator Act, and the Constitution of South Africa. The authors propose a multidisciplinary approach to address water-related environmental injustices on the West Rand and Far West Rand. We also describe the application of the National Environmental Management Act of South Africa (Act No. 107 of 1998) in the Wonderfonteinspruit and Tweelopiespruit Catchments and the current water quality situation.