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Environmental non-compliances reported by affected communities, the media, & NGOs

Abandoned mines and rehabilitation obligations

An oft-repeated criticism of DRD relates to its alleged failure to rehabilitate its operations in accordance with its legal obligations to do so. A spokesperson for the non-profit organisation, the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE), has been reported as stating that “DRD is known to alienate its mines when the cost of liabilities exceeds the profits”.1 This statement was made in relation to the Blyvooruitzicht mine near Johannesburg.

The Blyvooruitzicht mine was sold by DRD to Village Main Reef in 2012, although questions have been raised as to whether the shares that Village Main Reef acquired in Blyvooruitzicht were ever properly transferred to it. Village Main Reef commenced operations that year but then pulled out and stated that the sale had not gone through. The mine then went into liquidation and both companies denied ownership, resulting in the stoppage of environmental control measures, including dampening of the dust. Residents living near the mine then made complaints to the FSE.

Environmental problems experienced by residents (who have also experienced numerous other disruptions as a result of the liquidation of the mine) included dust and the “near certainty” that water sources had been contaminated by uranium and other toxic metals. In a 2012 parliamentary reply the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs confirmed that at “the Blyvoorzicht mine of a certain company”, there had been an accidental spillage of tailings resulting in pollution of the Wonderfontein Spruit in July of that year.2

There is uncertainty as to whether the liquidation process will enable funds that were set aside for financial provision for environmental rehabilitation at the mine to be used for this purpose. In the meantime the situation at the mine continues to be environmentally and socially chaotic. The situation at Blyvooruitzicht is a chilling example of the ease with which mining companies in South Africa can avoid their environmental obligations.

The FSE reported similar issues surrounding the sale by DRD of its West Rand operations to the company Mintails.3 In February 2014 the FSE instigated a criminal investigation into this matter, on the grounds of alleged violations of the Environmental Management Programme.4

A recent article published in the Guardian also implicates DRD in the problem of abandoned and unrehabilitated mines around Johannesburg and the harm caused by the toxic waste from these mines. The article notes that wind blows dust from the mine dumps into residential areas and that this dust can contain traces of everything from copper and lead to cyanide and arsenic.

Inhalation of this dust results in serious health problems. In a clinic in Riverlea, Soweto, respiratory problems such as asthma and tuberculosis and also rashes and skin diseases are commonplace. The danger inherent in the estimated 600,000 metric tonnes of radioactive uranium buried in mine dumps around Johannesburg is also linked to gold mines. A DRD official is quoted as saying that DRD utilises dust suppression measures such as vegetation growth and netting, but the article notes that neither of these measures were visible on the Diepkloof dump, currently being re-mined by the company.5

Litigation and other legal challenges

DRD’s 2014 Form 20-F, submitted to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, details litigation instigated against the company by the Legal Resources Centre on behalf of two communities residing adjacent to the Durban Roodepoort Deep mine and the West Witwatersrand mine. It is reported that the communities are seeking orders for the revision of the environmental management programmes of both sites and for the sites to be rehabilitated and closed in accordance with the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act. DRD stated that it had filed its appearance to defend and answering affidavits in the High Court.6 This is presumably the litigation reported on in DRD’s 2009 Annual Report.

In 2013, a number of groups also instigated litigation against DRD in order to obtain information on the company’s dust emissions, due to the harm caused to the residents of Riverlea by such emissions from DRD’s Riverlea operation.7

The FSE and other groups have opposed the granting of a mining right to Ergo to re-mine the Soweto Cluster Mine Dumps in Roodeport, in part on the basis of DRD’s history of non-rehabilitation.8

Parliamentary Q&As

Questions asked by a member of the Democratic Alliance to the Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry in 2008 related in part to the “mine sludge spillages occurring at regular intervals above surface” at the ERPM mine in Boksburg. In response the Minister stated that the Department had never been informed of the spillages.9

In a response to a parliamentary question, the Minister of Water and Sanitation stated that as at 25 July 2014, ‘Crown Gold Recoveries’ and ‘Crown Mine: Ergo Mine Knights’, both DRD operations, were operating without water use licences and no applications for authorisation had been received by the Department of Water and Sanitation. The application for authorisation submitted by a mining operation called ‘Knights Gold’ in Gauteng was reportedly in process, as was that of another unnamed DRD mine.10

Another 2014 parliamentary reply also listed ‘Crown Gold Recoveries’ and ‘Crown Mine: Ergo Mine Knights Section’ as not having applied for WULs, and stated that in relation to both operations investigations had been conducted, and that in relation to ‘Crown Gold Recoveries’, a Notice of Intention to Issue a Directive had been issued.11

  1. http://mg.co.za/article/2013-11-21-legal-minefield-is-a-deadly-hazard (last accessed on 7 August 2015).
  2. Question No. 2815, Date of publication in internal question paper: 12 October 2012, available at https://www.dwa.gov.za/communications/Q&A/2012/NA%202815.pdf
  3. http://mg.co.za/article/2013-11-21-legal-minefield-is-a-deadly-hazard (last accessed on 7 August 2015).
  4. Comments on the Environmental Impact Assessment and Environmental Management Programme for the Reclamation of the Soweto Cluster Mine Dumps, by the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, at p2-3, available at http://www.fse.org.za/index.php/comment/item/download/22_265538b591914263acd51433326c1c5f
  5. Radioactive city: how Johannesburg’s townships are paying for its mining past, The Guardian, 6 July 2015, available at http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/jul/06/radioactive-city-how-johannesburgs-townships-are-paying-for-its-mining-past (last accessed on 7 August 2015).
  6. Form 20-F, for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2014, at p42, available at http://www.drd.co.za/investors-and-media/20f/2014/20-f-2014_31oct14.pdf
  7. Riverlea to sue state depts, DRD Gold over poisonous dust, Mail & Guardian, 25 April 2013, available at http://mg.co.za/article/2013-04-25-riverlea-to-sue-water-minerals-depts-drd-gold (last accessed on 7 August 2015).
  8. Comments on the Environmental Impact Assessment and Environmental Management Programme for the reclamation of the Soweto cluster mine dumps, by the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, at p2-3, available at http://www.fse.org.za/index.php/comment/item/download/22_265538b591914263acd51433326c1c5f. Also, http://www.fse.org.za/index.php/mining-nuclear/item/358-re-mining-could-mean-double-the-toxic-trouble-for-residents (last accessed on 7 August 2015); and http://www.fse.org.za/index.php/comment/item/407-reclamation-of-the-soweto-cluster-mine-dumps (last accessed on 7 August 2015).
  9. Question No. 753, Date of publication in internal question paper: 16 May 2008, available at http://pmg.org.za/questions-and-replies/2008/11/27/question-replies-no-751-800
  10. Question No. 1716, Date of publication in internal question paper: 19 September 2014, available at https://www.dwa.gov.za/communications/Q&A/2014/NA%201716.pdf
  11. Question No. 735, Date of publication in internal question paper: 25 July 2014, at p5, available at https://www.dwa.gov.za/communications/Q&A/2014/NA%20735.pdf