Pretoria — The Department of Water and Sanitation has welcomed the sentence against Bosveld Phosphate (PTY) Ltd in relation to environmental degradation and water offences.
The plant produces phosphoric acid, which is used in fertiliser.
These charges relate to unlawfully and intentionally or negligently causing a situation in December 2013 which led to water containing polluted substances being released into the Selati River which forms one of the tributaries of the Olifants River.
The Olifants River eventually flows through the Kruger National Park which is one of South Africa’s biggest drawcards for tourism.
The waste water that was released had the potential to cause serious damage, not only to the immediate environment, but also to water resources of Mozambique.
The company which pleaded guilty to violating sections of the National Water Act and the National Environmental Management Act was fined to the tune of R1,1 million was suspended while R1450 fine is payable within 14 days.
Head of the Blue Scorpions, an enforcement unit at department of Water and Sanitation, Nigel Adams, described the fine as a victory for the environment and tourism.
He hoped that the hefty fine would serve as a deterrent to potential offenders.
Adams said the Blue Scorpions would continue to raid industries that polluted South Africa’s rivers with impunity.
In the past year alone the unit had raided no fewer than 20 offending companies and local governments and served them with directives (notices) to stop their illegal activities.
These ranged from farmers to mines and abattoirs. Repeat offenders have been charged and fined by the courts, Adams said.
Association for Water and Rural Development ‘s Sharon Pollard said the mines and associated industries cannot cope with the amount of effluent they produce and this represented an ongoing source of risk to the people and natural resources in the catchment.
“Our research into the resilience of the Limpopo River Basin and the Olifants Catchment in particular indicates that there have been spills every year for a long time, not just from Bosveld.
“At the end of the day the mines and associated industries can’t cope with the amount of effluent they produce and this represents an ongoing source of risk to the people and natural resources in the catchment.”
The state of the nation address was a missed opportunity to begin the process of healing our democracy and restoring trust in its institutions. Instead it will go down in history as the moment in which the state tried to obstruct journalists, and police forcibly removed MPs. However, in the analysis of what transpired that night, a number of other human rights issues have been overlooked.
The address was also a wasted opportunity to open a dialogue on a genuinely inclusive social contract for the mining sector. On the contrary, a bias towards the concerns of elites over those of the poor and marginalised, and the status quo over change, was quite apparent.
Particularly troubling was the continued failure to recognise mine-affected communities as a stakeholder with legitimate interests and a right to take a seat at the bargaining table. The Draft Framework for Sustainable Mining was recently concluded between the government, mining sector and organised labour. Its most widely known flaw is that the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, the dominant union on the platinum belt, has not signed it.
Equally significant but less well known is the exclusion of organisations representing mine-affected communities. The organisation of communities into formal nationwide networks means engagement with this sector is far easier than previously. Yet their voices are still missing from negotiations.
While President Jacob Zuma said the streamlining of the mining, environmental and water licensing processes was in response to business requests, there were no corresponding examples of responsiveness to the requests of communities. While investors will now have a “one-stop departmental clearance house” to attend to complaints, communities will have no equivalent body to assist them in responding to violations of their environmental and other rights.
The disproportionate attention to the concerns of the industry and investors results in an incomplete picture of the effects of mining. For example, while mining-related environmental degradation threatens the health and livelihood of communities across SA, there was no mention of the environmental costs of mining.
This approach goes against that required by the constitution, which is founded on the values of respect for the dignity of all and the equal enjoyment of rights and freedoms. To realise this vision, the constitution enshrines the right to political participation, just administrative action, access to a basket of socioeconomic goods and to an environment not harmful to health or wellbeing. These values require a human rights-based approach to governance in which the voices of all are valued, and vulnerable citizens get particular attention.
The exclusion of communities also runs contrary to the National Development Plan, which stresses active citizenship.
Mr Zuma sought to clearly communicate that his government was sensitive to the needs of investors. However, by sidelining the needs and priorities of key stakeholders, the government is doing investors no favours because the main requirement of investors is a stable environment in which the return on their investments is secure. If affected groups are excluded from decision-making and do not see their concerns addressed, they will be more likely to seek to disrupt the system. Stability in the system requires a social contract that addresses the needs and concerns of communities, all organised labour, the government, mining companies and investors.
While the debate over jammed signals continues in Parliament, another form of signal jamming is being overlooked: the inattentiveness of the government to concerns expressed by mining community organisations.
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