MINERAL Resources Minister Susan Shabangu came under fire on Friday for failing to rehabilitate abandoned mining sites in 2010-11 or 2011-12, and for having no plans to do so in 2012-13.
The Department of Mineral Resources annual performance plan for 2012-13 committed it to the rehabilitation of 12 derelict and ownerless mines by March next year, said Melissa Fourie, executive director of the Centre for Environmental Rights.
In 2009, the auditor-general estimated the bill for cleaning up existing abandoned mines would top R30bn.
Ms Shabangu, in response to a parliamentary question posed by Democratic Alliance (DA) water and environmental affairs spokesman Gareth Morgan, said no rehabilitation had been carried out in 2010-11 or 2011-12 and none was planned.
There are 5,858 derelict and ownerless mines in SA, according to Ms Shabangu’s answer.
Mr Morgan said he accepted mine rehabilitation was "a costly exercise, and ultimately may never be completely achievable, but there must surely be a list of mines requiring priority rehabilitation, particularly those that are negatively affecting the surrounding environment".
Ms Fourie said 12 mines was a "negligible target", and it was of "extreme concern" that nothing had been done.
Department of Mineral Resources spokeswoman Zingaphi Jakuja, who was asked for comment, had not responded by the time of going to print.
However, in response to another parliamentary question, Ms Shabangu said her department held $250m (R2.06bn) in environmental rehabilitation deposits received from mining companies that had obtained exploration licences.
Ms Shabangu said this money was in the form of bank and insurance guarantees, and there was no timeframe for the reimbursement of the financial guarantees.
The World Wide Fund for Nature SA said: "The incidence of acid mine drainage, and the high number of derelict and ownerless mines, as well as dangerous sinkholes and collapsing entry points, particularly in the Witwatersrand gold fields, have effectively brought the consequences of inadequate environmental rehabilitation in the mining sector into sharp focus."
The Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority’s rehabilitation of the West Rand’s acid mine drainage problem could be seen as "a start in terms of mine rehabilitation", the fund’s freshwater programme manager, Christine Colvin, said.
Ms Fourie said mining, environmental and water legislation made the mining companies, their directors, and potentially even their shareholders, liable for these costs, sometimes retroactively.
"What resources did the Department of Mineral Resources invest in trying to trace and hold the beneficiaries from mining at these sites accountable? We have yet to see court proceedings instituted by the department to either enforce rehabilitation obligations, or to attempt to trace and recover costs from beneficiaries."
Federation for a Sustainable Environment director Koos Pretorius said the attitude displayed in Ms Shabangu’s response "accurately reflects the urgency, seriousness and importance that the (department) attaches to the social and environmental impacts of the industry it is supposed to regulate, and the impacts of the failure to regulate".
More in this section
- Radio astronomy publication a milestone for SA
- Gauteng hospitals to get waste-generated backup power supply
- Joburg sets 2016 target to divert waste from landfill sites
- Network sees value biodiversity has for business
- Buyers, not banks or agents, push for greener homes
- Acid water pumps must be in place in months