Environmental degradation and water pollution are some of the serious problems facing South Africa. For instance, most parts of the Johannesburg region is bedevilled by the acid mine drainage which does not only threaten residents’ health but also pollute the groundwater system as well as the ecosystem. While the mining sector is credited for its significant contribution to the country’s economic development, it is also blamed for contaminating freshwater resources and destroying the environment.
Candidate attorney Dr. Marianca Louw, who has just obtained her doctorate in Public Law on Monday, believes introducing stricter mining legislation will prevent and regulate the current reckless mining practices and also stop the widespread pollution associated with mining activities.
Dr. Louw is passionate about human and environmental rights as well as environmental law. She said this can be achieved if South African lawmakers can take a leaf out of Germany’s legal framework which offers a few helpful tips.
Dr. Louw focused on South Africa’s water and mining law by analysing water quality protection frameworks. Part of her study was to compare the country’s legal framework with that of Germany and also described and analysed various legal documents, policies and international conventions and treaties on environmental law.
Said Dr. Louw: “One of the reasons for comparing our environmental, water and mining legislation with that of Germany is that, in a certain sense, we find ourselves in a similar position to that which faced Germany after reunification in 1990 when lignite and uranium mining activities as well as the chemical industries during the time of the German Democratic Republic left behind a devastated landscape and environment.”
She said South Africa needs “an enhanced water quality protection law that can contribute to the protection of our water resources from acid mine drainage and to ensure we have safe water for continued and sustained economic growth and service delivery.”
Dr. Louw called for the amendment of the existing legislation so that water and mining permits or licences are regulated by one authority and not by separate entities. She said this will ensure there is better co-ordination and uniformity.
“The German legal framework shows that these licenses are better regulated when only one authority grants the water and mining license,” said Dr. Louw.
She said like the German legal framework, the South African legislation also needs to provide for a water treatment plant without which mining activities cannot commence.
“After the mining and water permit has been granted to the mining company, it must build a water treatment plant in accordance with regulations to ensure that mine water is treated before, during and after mining operations. This will immediately contribute to the remedying of acid mine drainage, as this plant will continue with the treatment of mine water, even after the closure of the mine,” Dr. Louw said.
Louw said in Germany, mining companies must pay a deposit as a guarantee before they start operating to ensure there are sufficient funds for rehabilitation after the closure of mines. “South Africa has a similar financial provision, but it does not provide for a financial guarantee before mining activities commence,” she pointed out.
It should be recommended that if a mining company cannot provide a financial guarantee for remediation after the closure of the mine, a percentage of the mining profit should be paid monthly to the mining authority. If the company fails to do this, the minister of mineral resources and energy should close the mine, argued Dr. Louw.
She said when mining activities cease; a closure and rehabilitation plan must be submitted. “The legislation should be amended in such a manner that the mining company remains liable for environmental degradation until the minister of mineral resources and energy is satisfied with the rehabilitation plan. Since acid mine drainage is a recurring problem, sufficient financial aids must be provided to ensure the protection of natural freshwater,” said Dr. Louw.
According to Louw, improved legislation is important because mining activities will continue to disturb established drainage patterns, often causing waterlogging and erosion, and lead to the contamination of surface and groundwater. Furthermore, said Dr. Louw, it will poison food crops, endanger human health, and destroy wildlife, ecosystems, and infrastructure and heritage sites.
The effectiveness of the South African legal framework, she added, to protect freshwater resources from environmental degradation caused by acid mine drainage, will depend on solid political will, sufficient human and financial resources and dedicated involvement from all relevant government departments, in close co-operation with the private sector.