The Springs area in Gauteng’s East Rand  faces a very serious threat to its streams, and groundwater sources, with the proposal of four new mines being planned for the area.

There are growing concerns among the community as gaining access to information about these mines has been met with difficulty. This in spite of the announcement from the Department of Mineral Resources, stating that mining information would be made public knowledge.

Mining operations have played an integral part in the development of the South African economic and political landscape. However, they have brought immense wealth to the elite minority, at the expense of extensive ecological and social damage.

Mining operations have been active in Springs since 1888. Over the duration of time, some mines had begun to shut down as a result of the depletion of the finite resources. With the disruption of mining activities, an ecological process began whereby water in these underground mines rose to its previous levels and came into contact with sulphide minerals, thus becoming highly acidic.

Without proper mitigation strategies in place, this contaminated acid enriched water has reached the main water source of the Springs community and is now having detrimental effects on surrounding landscapes and environment. Besides creating environmental damage, the contamination resulting from leakage of chemicals is also affecting the health of the local population. Children in Kwa Thema are playing in water that can fatally damage their kidneys and lungs.

Now there are up to four new coal mining licences that have been granted or are under consideration by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR). Public participation is one of the main components prior to granting mining licences. It is understood to be a series of inclusive and culturally-appropriate interactions aimed at providing stakeholders with opportunities to express their views, so that these can be incorporated into the decision-making process. Effective public participation requires the prior disclosure of relevant and adequate project information to enable stakeholders to understand the risks, impacts, and opportunities of the proposed project.

In the past, jobs that were promised to the community did not materialize and environmental management obligations have not been met by the mines or were not properly monitored by government departments. The Springs community say that they have not had any public consultation meetings regarding these four new mines, and are concerned that the cycle of negative impacts are going to begin again.

The local communities are unable to acquire information about these mining licenses, this is in spite of the announcement made by the DMR that all mining information will be made public. There are potentially thousands of mining licences under consideration in South Africa, but the problem is we are unable to gain access to the information. Leading to question whether the environmental impact assessment process was flawed, as it now appears that two out of the four mines have been awarded licences.

The mine currently proposed in the Waterberg could potentially come at huge cost to another already vulnerable community. What happened in Springs over the past 100 years is likely occur in the Waterberg as well. The biggest risk is water scarcity: coal mines leave the area with a minimal clean water supply, especially for a community that relies heavily on water for farming and their livelihoods. The question we now pose is, are we prepared to sacrifice the heritage sites, pristine habitats, biodiversity, and the communities that rely on the land and water for survival?

What we are saying is, do away with coal and look at renewable energy.”

Meshack Mbangula, Kwa Thema activist

Campaigners say that coal mining directly causes water scarcity in the poor communities and the mining is funded by South African banks who may be investing in the future coal mines planned for Springs. Climate change movement launched its Fossil Free Africa campaign, with a call on ‘dirty banks’ to fully disclose their fossil fuel investments and commit to stop financing future mining, refinery and power station projects in South Africa and across Africa.

Ferrial Adam of says, “We know that Nedbank is funding over R1 billion of coal projects only, direct coal funding..What the banks are not telling us is how much they are losing from their investment in fossil fuel, and that is something we want to ask all the banks to have full disclosure on. We can have a fossil free future with solar and wind providing locally-generated electricity for millions of people but it must start now with investment in clean renewable energy.”

The lack of action by government and mining companies over the past years, has led to a situation whereby temporary measures are now in place to deal with the current water pollution and scarcity crisis in these areas, whilst a long term solution is being developed.

“The coal mining lobby and the government say they will apply controls to the mining process but the people in Kwa Thema say that they have been waiting decades for their lives to change.”