Acid Mine Drainage, South Africa


Acid mine drainage is waste water that collects in abandoned gold and uranium mines on the Witwatersrand which chemically interacts with acidic and radioactive chemicals. It is dangerous because if left unpumped it rises to the surface. This has already occurred in the Western basin, and is due to occur in the Central and Eastern basins in the months to come. The waste water is toxic, corrosive and radioactive and spills into the environment where it contaminates soil and local watercourses. This is occurring in the most urban, industrial and most densely populated province in South Africa, and has the potential to affect millions of lives. In particular many informal communities have made their homes on contaminated land, and feed their animals and crops with contaminated water. Some use mining waste as building materials. Parts of the West Rand contain radioactive lakes, contamination of lakes in the Krugersdorp Game Reserve have resulted in animals going blind. There is a danger that the acid mine drainage will hamper efforts to protect the fossil record in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage site. Foundations of buildings in the centre of Johannesburg will be eroded. The mining companies have largely left the area and ceased to pump out the corrosive water. On the East Rand, the contaminated water is flowing into a Ramsar wetland. Government is setting aside funds to deal with the problem, but it is proving too little to be effective.

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Basic Data
NameAcid Mine Drainage, South Africa
CountrySouth Africa
SiteJohannesburg and environs
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Water access rights and entitlements
Mineral ore exploration
Tailings from mines
Specific Commodities
Project Details and Actors
Project Area (in hectares)40000
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected PopulationUp to 5 million
Start Date2008
Company Names or State EnterprisesAnglo Gold Ashanti from South Africa
DRDGold from South Africa
Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority from South Africa - state enterprise)
Relevant government actorsDepartment of Mineral Resources, Department of Water and Environment, Department of Health, Provincial government of Gauteng, National Nuclear Regulator, Council on Geosciences, Water Research Council, Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority
International and Financial InstitutionsWorld Health Organization (WHO)
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersFederation for a Sustainable Environment,, Earthlife Africa - Johannesburg, Mine Water Action Group
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of MobilizationCreation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Mine tailing spills
Potential: Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Institutional changes
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Development of AlternativesEJOs are decrying government for applying solutions to the problem that are inadequate, but need to come up with a clear set of demands for what they would like to see happen.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.EJOs need clearer goals. Government response to the situation is inadequate.
Sources and Materials

Water Act

National Environmental Management Act

Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act

National Nuclear Regulator Act


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Earthlife Africa
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Business Day
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Business Report
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Federation for a Sustainable Environment
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Mail and Guardian
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Mining Weekly
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Sunday Times Johannesburg
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US Water News
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Meta Information
ContributorMs Mariette Liefferink
Last update08/04/2014