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Water pumping dispute against gold mining corporations in Klerksdorp, North West Province, South Africa


Witwatersrand is a region in the North West Provine rich in minerals, making it a hotspot for mining activities [3]. Within Witwatersrand, there is the KOSH Gold Field, named after the four central gold mining towns of Klerksdorp, Orkney, Stilfontein, and Hartbeesfontein. The surrounding mines are mostly functional, though many have been liquidated as well. Owing to more than a century of mining, the land is now marked by many cavities and waste rock dumps [2]. The extensive underground mining operations resulted in the abandoned mines in the KOSH area being linked underground. When companies leave mines improperly rehabilitated, the interconnecting tunnels, shafts, mined out areas and natural fissures create a pathway through which the underground water flows deep into the connecting holes, forming sulphuric acid or acid mine tailings when heavy metals and minerals are washed into the water. Such drainage causes significant pollution [4]. More information about such pollution can be found at:

Klerksdorp is an impoverished town with many social ills caused by unemployment, which skyrocketed upon the entrance of the mining companies.  It is 170 kms to the south-west of Johannesburg.  Mining companies have evicted many peoples in the area, started projects without consent, caused high levels of radioactivity from uranium mining on top of the gold mining, and devastated the land with irresponsible mining practices. Locals in Klerksdorp suffer not only from social and health problems, but there are also accidental fatalities such as people and children especially falling to their death in the open holes [5].

In 2005, Director of Water Resource Protection and Waste Management at the Department of Water Affairs and founder of nonprofit Sustainable Solutions Carin Bosman succeeded in legal action against several gold mining companies (African Rainbow Minerals Gold Ltd, Pamodzi Gold Orkney Ltd, Harmony Gold Mining Co. Ltd., AngloGold Ashanti, DRD Gold) around Klerksdorp demanding that they share the costs for groundwater pumping in their closed mines to prevent shafts from flooding and causing a massive acid mine drainage problem [9, 6]. This was a difficult endeavor because water research is often fragmented and blocked by powerful industry interests. Although she faced severe pressure to let the companies go with impunity and was often removed from meetings with stakeholders and authorities, Bosman was adamant on acting against “the politics of pollution that are actually killing us” [1]. This legal victory was critical in establishing that even when mining companies close their mines, they cannot always escape responsibility for their past activities [4].

In 2013-2014, Harmony Gold, the world’s fifth largest gold producer, appealed to the Supreme Court against the decision. The company refused to pay for pumping water from a mine that it sold in 2008 [7]. They argued that their obligations were only valid as long as they owned the mining land, and they had already ceased to be a landowner and were thus not liable to pay. Bosman and supporters fought the appeal, and the court rejected Harmony’s claims, concluding that even if the companies are liquidated or no longer own the land, they are still responsible according to the 1998 National Environmental Management Act [4, 3]. To recover costs from pumping the water, several of the gold mining companies instead began selling the pumped water to locals [10].

 The local community, however, is still not safe from mining damages. In April 2018, the people of Dominionville, a village adjacent to Klerksdorp, protested at the Mayor’s office against their decision to allow Shiva Uranium to buy their land without consent. Shiva Uranium has not developed Local Economic Development (LED) projects that will make a significant impact on sustainable livlihoods and development. Furthermore, it does not employ local workers and contributes to unemployment [5, 8].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Water pumping dispute against gold mining corporations in Klerksdorp, North West Province, South Africa
Country:South Africa
State or province:North West Province
Location of conflict:Klerksdorp
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Tailings from mines
Specific commodities:Uranium
Industrial waste

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The long-term cost for the water pumping was R18 million ($2.74 million) per company per year for three years to put the necessary infrastructure in place. There was also a monthly pumping cost of about R1.5 million ($229,100) per company [7].

Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:04/06/2005
Company names or state enterprises:Harmony Gold Mining Co. Ltd from South Africa
African Rainbow Minerals Gold Ltd
Pamodzi Gold Orkney Ltd
DRD Gold
Anglo Gold Ashanti from South Africa
Relevant government actors:Department of Water Affairs, Supreme Court
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Sustainable Solutions
Water Institute of South Africa
Iggdrasil Scientific Services
AHL Water

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Landless peasants
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Groundwater pollution or depletion, Mine tailing spills
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Deaths
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Land dispossession
Potential: Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Negotiated alternative solution
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Application of existing regulations
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Carin Bosman and supporters succeeded in filing legal action against mining companies to get them to pay for water pumping preventing further acid mine drainage. The legal victories continued with successfully blocking Harmony Gold's attempt to overturn the sentence. However, the local community still suffers from mining exploitation from uranium miners.

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

[6] Supreme Court of Appeal. Harmony Gold Mining Co. Ltd. Vs. Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (2006)

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[2] Africa Institute of South Africa. Management and Mitigation of Acid Mine Drainage in South Africa (Mujuru et al. 2017)

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[4] Hogan Lovells Publications. Like diamonds, a mining company's liability for water pollution may be forever (2014)

[8] Futures. Harmony Told to Share Costs of Pumping Water (Mathews 2014)

[9] Engineering News. State gets even tougher with water polluters (Mawson 2005)

[10] Futures. Gold miners will sell pumped water (Mathews 2014)

[3] EARTH Magazine. The toxic legacy of gold mining in South Africa (du Toit 2011)

[5] Community Monitors. Klerksdorp/ Dominionville dumped by Uranium Mining (2018)

[7] Infrastructure News. Harmony to dispute mine water ruling (2012)

[1] Mail & Guardian. The water warriors (2010). "As an independent consultant... Carin Bosma'ns technical knowledge, coupled with her managerial ability and first-hand experience of “the politics of pollution”, has seen her drawn into some of the biggest environmental scraps of the day, such as the Vele Colliery debacle in Limpopo..."

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Carin Bosman Sustainable Solutions. Our environmental- and water governance solutions help you to take sustainable management decisions.

Meta information

Contributor:Dalena Tran, ICTA-UAB, [email protected]
Last update22/06/2020



AngloGold mine in Klerksdorp

Photo: NCE Connect

Source: Academia Edu