Witwatersrand is a region in the North West Provine rich in minerals, making it a hotspot for mining activities . 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 . 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 . More information about such pollution can be found at: https://www.ejatlas.org/conflict/acid-mine-drainage-south-africa
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 .
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” . This legal victory was critical in establishing that even when mining companies close their mines, they cannot always escape responsibility for their past activities .
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 . 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 .
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].