There needs to be a collective effort by all South Africans to find a long-term solution to the acid mine drainage (AMD) crisis, Water Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said on Thursday.
“A call is made to all of South Africa - experts, community members, women and children - let's focus on solutions,” she told reporters in Randfontein, on the West Rand.
“Everyone who has a solution, we are opening up a process to listen. Let's focus on what we should do as a collective. We can't say that everyone has the perfect solution, but we will try to find something holistic.”
Molewa was speaking ahead of the commissioning of an upgraded Rand Uranium treatment plant to deal with AMD on the West Rand.
“Today is World Water Day... We therefore thought it appropriate to come to come here to the Witwatersrand to show you the effects that decades of reckless and poorly regulated mining activities have had on our precious water resources,” she said.
AMD is the flow or seepage of polluted water from old mining areas. Depending on the area, the water often contains toxic heavy metals and radioactive particles, or is acidic. Contact with it can affect the health of humans, animals and plants.
The upgraded treatment plant, which will be commissioned in April, will deal with almost 30 million litres of AMD that decants into the Tweelopiespruit daily.
The affected water eventually flows into the Crocodile river. Only 12m litres are currently being treated.
Molewa said the upgrade was part of a nationwide emergency initiative to deal with AMD.
“In April last year I directed the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority to undertake emergency works... the work undertaken constitutes phase one of the long-term solution to deal with the problem,” she said.
The short-term treatment rids the drainage of all toxic chemicals, but retains high sodium levels.
In central Johannesburg, some of the sodium-rich water eventually makes its way into the Vaal river. The river can only tolerate the current sodium levels until 2014.
Molewa said her department had commissioned a study into a long-term solution for AMD in the east, central and west rand underground mining basins.
“A team of consultants will be responsible for conducting this study over the next 13 months.”
Molewa said the government intended solving the AMD crisis.
“Even though the current government inherited the problem... we are intensifying our efforts and making noteworthy progress. We are looking for a solution to a problem that happened many, many years before we were here.”
She said her department would work at solving the crisis even though there was a shortfall in the budget allocated to deal with AMD.
“It will cost R900m to R1 billion to deal with the short-term solution. The current budget is R433m,” Molewa said.
“We are dealing with the Treasury, and they are sympathetic. There is no need to worry because whatever happens, we know the Treasury is with us.”
She said local mines were also working on the crisis.
“Some mines are saying they are looking for a solution as well. This is something that needs to be resolved, because if it isn't, people's lives will be put in danger.” - Sapa