Communities left to choke on legacy of bad mining practice

JOHANNESBURG – When Rose Plaatjies, 63, was moved to Riverlea Extension 1, Johannesburg, about 40 years ago by the apartheid government, she had no idea the deadly chemicals from mines in the area would make her terminally ill.

Plaatjies, who requires an oxygen machine for up to 16 hours a day to stay alive, is among thousands of Johannesburg residents who suffer from respiratory infections as a result of mining, according to a report released by the Bench Marks Foundation.

“The toxic dust is the truth. My lungs can’t help me to breathe any more. “Our children have eczema and eye problems and they are born with disorders,” Plaatjies told journalists this week. Plaatjies was speaking in Riverlea during the launch of the Bench Marks Foundation report titled Waiting to Inhale, focused on four mine-affected communities, Riverlea, Diepkloof, Meadowlands and Doornkop.

The report found that 56.1percent of Soweto residents had identified sinus, asthma and tuberculosis as their most persistent ailments, with 4percent saying they suffered from eye problems. David van Wyk, lead researcher for Bench Marks, the non-profit, faith-based organisation owned by the churches in South Africa, said the situation was dire due to acid mine drainage.

Van Wyk charged that acid mine drainage was the result of over a century of abusive mining practice which had become a real threat to the wellbeing of residents. “The government should stop putting poor people in an unsafe and unhealthy environment.” He said that acid mine drainage severely degraded water quality, killed aquatic life and made water virtually unusable. “Mining, by its very nature consumes, diverts and can seriously pollute water, air and soil resources.

“Negative impacts can vary from sedimentation caused by poorly built roads during exploration to the disturbance of water during mining construction.” The study said that Soweto was in a basin to the south and south-west of Johannesburg and was directly below the mines of the central rand – from Langlaagte and Crown Mines in the east through to Durban Roodepoort Deep and Doornkop in the west.

Riverlea Community Forum representative, Reece Rosenberg, believed that working with Bench Marks would help the affected communities find alternative ways to improve their living conditions. Rosenberg said the government had forced the health-hazard mining operation on the community. “We are covered with dust and we live with that on a daily basis. “Clinics cannot cope with the amount of people going there will all these illness.”

This year the Bench Mark Foundation marks 10 years of reporting on the impact of mining on near-mine communities on the platinum belt in the North West and Limpopo, the diamond fields along the west coast of South Africa, and the coal fields in Mpumalanga.

Communities left to choke on legacy of bad mining practice – Source – IOL

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