Mining town residents voice health concerns

| Barbara Maregele
Middelburg residents attended an environmental rights workshop hosted by the Centre for Environmental Rights last night. Photo by Barbara Maregele.

Polluted water, shattered windows and cracked walls were among the concerns voiced by Middelburg residents during a workshop hosted by the Centre for Environmental Rights on 18 June.

“When they blast at the mine, the windows in my house vibrate and the floor feels like something is shaking the whole house. Some of my windows are shattered and my walls have cracks,” said resident Emmah Mnguni.

The 40-year-old mother has been living for the past 10 years in the community of Tokologo, located about 800 metres from the nearest mine.

“When it rains, the asbestos in my roof also gets wet and swells. From when they blast at the mines my walls now have cracks in them. This has been a problem since 2004,” Mnguni said.

Groenkoel resident Allan McFarlane who has been living in the Middelburg area for more than 20 years no longer drinks municipal water.

“I don’t drink or consume the water at all. I only use it for bathing. It’s very bad and polluted. The water has changed over the years. I am fortunate enough to have a pump to use borehole water instead,” he said.

McFarlane, who lives four kilometres from the nearest mine, said residents felt the effects of pollution especially during winter.

“We suffer the most during the winter months because of the wind and the inversion layer. In summer, all the pollution and dust particles from the mines is blown away, but in winter all the rubbish comes back down,” he said.

Mnguni and McFarlane were among 50 community members who attended the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) workshop to raise awareness about the community’s environmental rights at the L.D Moetanalo Secondary School in Mhluzi.

The workshop forms part of CER’s programme this week along with Greenpeace, groundWork, and various other local activists as they visit key areas in Mpumalanga to assess how mines and power stations have impacted surrounding communities.

The environmental advocacy group’s candidate attorney, Matome Kapa, drew attention to section 24 of the constitution which makes provision for the right to a clean environment.

“As a community you have the right to access information. Before mining can be done in an area or a licence granted, companies must give adequate notice for a community meeting. The venue must be accessible, the information provided at the meeting must be correct and understandable,” he said.

Power station in the Highveld area. Photo by Barbara Maregele.

Kapa added that non-compliant companies were often fined and those found contravening environmental specifications could even face imprisonment.

“The air quality in this area is highly polluted and dangerous for your health. This has resulted in the Highveld being declared a priority area because of its emission levels. Government is now looking for ways to reduce this,” he said.

Mining companies have to have licences for waste management, air pollution and water use.

Residents were advised to look out for changes in their communities which may have occurred as a result of mining in the area.

“To see if the company is not compliant, lookout for waste dumped in your rivers and wetlands; if there is too much dust in the air making people sick; if wildlife and fish in the water start to die; if companies mine and leave without fixing the land, that could be illegal,” he said.

CER executive director Melissa Fourie said there were an insufficient number of officials monitoring compliance at mines.

“There are not enough officials on national, provincial and local government levels to inspect the mines. This is how the companies get away with things because they are not monitored regularly,” she said.

Fourie said the effect mining has had in the greater Mpumalanga area was an indication of what was happening countrywide.

“The residents and environment in the Mpumalanga Highveld bear a heavy burden of the mining industry for the rest of the country,” she said.

Fourie urged residents to report issues to the relevant authorities.

See Barbara Maregele’s photo essay on the afflicted region.

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TOPICS:  Health

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