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CER welcomes DWA’s plans to hold current and past mining companies accountable for acid mine drainage

24 February 2011 at 4:21 pm

24 February 2011

The Centre for Environmental Rights is in the process of studying the team of experts’ report on acid mine drainage released on the Department of Water Affairs’ website this morning. It is apparent from the report that the situation in the Witwatersrand calls for immediate action, and it is therefore not at all clear why this report was not released earlier. We also note that the report now provides for “stakeholder engagement” to take place. Again, it is not clear why the IMC was unable to engage with civil society during the many months since the committee was established, despite repeated offers of assistance and requests by civil society organisations to meet with the IMC. Instead, we were forced to submit an application in terms of access to information legislation and to appeal to Parliament to intervene just to get the experts’ report released. Going forward, this process needs to be far more transparent and accountable than it has been to date.

We are studying the 146-page report and will be able to make more comprehensive comments during the course of next week. At this stage, we would only like to comment on Minister Molewa’s statement regarding notices being issued to mining companies under s.19 and 20 of the National Water Act, 1998 (NWA). We welcome and support the DWA’s efforts to enforce these sections of the NWA and particularly the “polluter pays” principle. We specifically welcome efforts to hold mining companies who contributed to the pollution in the past accountable.

However, it is important to note that the DWA has issued a number of weak but fiercely resisted directives to mining companies in the past few years to bear the cost of pumping and treating decanting acid mine drainage. Some of the directives allowed mining companies to discharge partially treated, still heavily polluted, acid mine drainage into rivers and streams. Even these weak directives have been challenged and sometimes ignored by mining companies. The DWA must be prepared to take more stringent enforcement action to ensure that mining companies comply with their obligations under the NWA.