For two Saturdays in a row, the Saturday Star carried a story about Acid Mine Drainage on the West Rand.

To contextualize this for you, I need to say that the drainage point is less than 20 kms from my front door, where I live.  The seepage comes from low pH water welling up in old, closed-down mines and more than 15 thousand litres is gushing out of the earth, rapidly lowing into several streams and eventually two main River-complexes in the Gauteng / Free State provinces of our country.

The AMD (Acid Mine Drainage) is heavily contaminated water containing primarily radio-active uranium, cadmium, lead, arsenic and a cocktail of  toxic metals so dangerous that, and I quote: “(that it) caused depletion of dolomite in two-and-a-half years – under normal circumstances, this would have taken millions of years”.  The article reads that the Witwatersrand, home to the world’s biggest gold and uranium mining basin, is where mining operations have ‘raped the earth for its gold and uranium, left behind gaping holes in the ground, polluted river sources and disrupted and left unenriched communities’, says Mrs. Mariëtte Liefferink, chief executive for the Federation for Sustainable Environment.

Government and mining stake holders are shrugging their shoulders and no real attempts are being made to stop, what may be one of South Africa’s largest ecological disasters.  Rand Uranium, who has been forced to pump out mega-litres of AMD into nearby Robinson Lake, seems to care less that the levels of radioactive Uranium are now 40,000 times higher than normal!

After seeing the devastation the past two years in Punjab, where the local and national governments have also walked away shrugging their shoulders, in the wake of thousands becoming ill, being born brain injured or deformed and some dying from cancer or related radiation diseases, I simply can’t come to grips with  the lethargy which thinks that simply throwing money at the problem by pumping the black water from one place to another and minimally treating it, will make the problem go away.

This past Friday, 5th February, 2010, Faranaaz Parker, reporter for the Mail & Guardian, pointed out in her article about this impending disaster in “Don’t Drink the Water” in the newspaper’s Health Section, that uranium has already led to miscarriage of animals and humans, deformity, blindness and babies being stillborn.

When will we take responsibility for our actions?!  When will governments come to the party and actually do something to ensure that the next generation doesn’t pay the price for our sins?!

I am both horrified and shocked at what is happening on the West Rand and wish to warn everyone living in the irrigation zones of the Tweelopies Spruit as well as the Vaal and Limpopo Systems that they can expect not only disease, deformity and death of their livestock, but if this problem isn’t curbed and the water isn’t make safe to drink, wash in and utilize for irrigation, humans will suffer the same dismal lot as the livestock, who are already the first line of testimony against business giants who don’t care about the monumental loss of life, and more …. this ecological disaster will forever change life as we know it, if the damage isn’t immediately curtailed.

Another shocking point to note is that the article  “Where poison water seeps from the earth“, written on the 30th of January by journalist Sheree Bega, indicated that the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs would comment in the week to follow.  I scoured the papers the following week, only to find that this department (along with 4 other government stake-holding departments), all have their very own unique damage control projects under way: Beeld, Thursday, 4 February 2010, quoted the Minister and the Assistant Director-General of this department as commenting that only 30 of South Africa’s 283 municipalities are functioning properly with regards to water management at present.  These are called so-called “Blue-Drop” municipalities.  Not one municipality downstream from the AMD disaster is a “Blue-Drop municipality, which means that these municipalities do not have the capacity or expertise or skill level of engineering acumen to clean up the spillage which is imminent in their region!  The Assistant Director-General, Ms. Mobulele Ngele commented taht 23 municipalities are already in the most dire straits, as they  are no longer able to purify sewerage and provide safe drinking water!

According to Ngele’s presentation an extreme danger exists for the outbreak of water-borne diseases in these areas and a further 99 municipalities are on the Department’s Risk List.

Our Minister promised that she will deal with this dire matter by simply reporting this to government in parliament – is this nearly enough, if one estimates the compound risk the seepage of AMD brings to this equation, in a country where highly qualified chemical engineers have become part of the ongoing efflux of brains from South Africa and where a nation is becoming more and more vulnerable when viewed against the backdrop of one of the world’s worst ecological disasters where radioactive elements and toxic waste conspire to destroy entire regions and their inhabitants?

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