Forsaken mines to receive R40bn repair

[] — THE DEPARTMENT of mineral resources has identified over 6,000 derelict and ownerless mining sites across South Africa, parliament’s select committee on economic development heard on Tuesday.

Rehabilitating and making them safe would take an estimated 28 years, and cost about R40bn the department’s chief director of mineral policy and promotion, Faith Ngcwabe, told MPs.

She said derelict and ownerless mines posed health, safety and environmental problems, including both surface and groundwater pollution, as well as impacting on current and future land-use and heritage resources.

The department’s identification of the sites marked “the first time in the history of South Africa that such a comprehensive database has been developed”.

An assessment showed the state would need R30bn to deal with derelict and ownerless mines. However, this figure did not take into account the impact of inflation, she said.

A graph tabled at the briefing shows state liability for rehabilitating old mining sites peaking at about R40 billion, before dropping to zero in 2038, by which time the department estimates it will have rehabilitated all 6152 identified sites.

“The problem of derelict and ownerless mines is bigger than we thought. The problem dates back to the 1600s – we’re looking at about 349 years of damage,” Ngcwabe said.

In her briefing to members, she distinguished between derelict and ownerless mines, where the owners could not be found, as opposed to abandoned mines, with traceable owners.

“In cases where owners are found, we are very determined to enforce the law. To date, in the East Rand [region] alone, we have managed to trace about 100 owners of abandoned shafts.”

A process had been started “to engage these companies to take liability”.

Among the photographs included in Ngcwabe’s presentation is one of a young boy in the western Johannesburg area walking his daily route to school past an open, uncapped and unguarded 1000m deep abandoned mine shaft.

The briefing document notes there are 244 “unsafe holes/shafts” in central Johannesburg alone.

Ngcwabe said priority was being given by her department to the rehabilitation of those sites which posed an immediate threat to communities.

The priority list included asbestos sites in Limpopo and the Northern Cape, and “openings, trenches and shafts within the… Witwatersrand gold basin”.

Further priority rehabilitation projects included coal mines at Osizweni in KwaZulu-Natal and the Lusikisiki quarry in the Eastern Cape.

“(A total of) 85 sites have been ranked and a number of priority areas have been identified for immediate rehabilitation,” she said.