While the acid mine drainage (AMD) situation in Gauteng province worsens, government is sitting on the task team report it commissioned last September to determine the response to the problem. The task team, made up of 27 experts from various institutions including the Council for Geoscience, the Department of Water, the CSIR and the Water Research Commission, had six weeks to work on the report, which was presented to the Inter-Ministerial Committee on 21 October 2010. While it is accepted that there may have been a need for alterations to the report first presented, it is unacceptable that three and a half months later the report has not gone to Cabinet, and thus has had no opportunity to be publicly released.
While the Inter-Ministerial Committee, made up of Ministers Molewa, Pandor, Manuel and Shabangu, twiddle their fingers, the decant of AMD is doing inordinate damage to water courses in the West Rand and the East Rand, threatening both human and environmental health. It is must be noted it is poor South Africans that inordinately feel the burden of AMD in water courses, and government has a particularly strong responsibility to this vulnerable group of people.
On the West Rand untreated AMD is flowing into the Krugersdorp Game Reserve at approximately 40 million litres of water a day, although an accurate measurement cannot be obtained as the measuring station itself has flooded. On the East Rand the risks are escalating by the day. While the only pump station on the East Rand, at the Grootvlei mine, was until recently pumping approximately 50 million litres of untreated mine water into the adjacent Blesboksptruit, an unacceptable situation in itself, the pump station has been switched off and it likely that the station will flood any day now. Water from other mines in the East Rand is now flowing into the Grootvlei mine and there is also the inflow into the mine of storm water runoff and seepage from tailings dams. We are now hurtling towards a surface decant of AMD in East Rand that is similar to what is happening on the West Rand.
The task team report, entitled Mine Water Management in the Witwatersrand with Special Emphasis on Acid Mine Drainage, is expected to contain a number of medium and long term responses. The responses are numerous and there cannot be a one size fits all solution, but what is needed now is action. One of the urgent priorities needs to be the management of ingress (inflow) of water into mine voids. But there also needs to be treatment of surface decant and the rehabilitation of affected water courses destroyed by the decant that has already occurred.
The DA was shocked to learn in the Portfolio Committee recently that the task team report was still with the Minister of Mineral Resources. Minister Shabangu needs to shift that report off her desk, if she has not already done so, and the report needs to be immediately tabled in the responsible Cabinet Committee. Government bureaucracy cannot be a reason for the delay in approval of such an important report.
A civil society grouping correctly pointed out this week that a delay in publishing the report increases public suspicion and anxiety. It is time for government to release the report and for a comprehensive response to be put in place. Residents of Gauteng have good reason to be concerned considering the silence from government on this issue, and it is time government reassures the public that the wait has been worth it.