«Report from South Africa Authors: Eugene Cairncross, Sophia Kisting, Mariette Liefferink, David van Wyk February 2013 We must remember the history of ...»
Case study on Extractive Industries prepared for the Lancet
Commission on Global Governance
Report from South Africa
Authors: Eugene Cairncross, Sophia Kisting, Mariette Liefferink, David van Wyk
"We must remember the history of mining in South Africa, of cheap black
labour, racism and exploitation. This is the model for the rest of Africa too. If
we look at Marikana as a microcosm of South Africa and really of mining in
Africa, we witness growing discontent, growing inequalities, a widening gap between rich and poor, and all the resultant problems of poverty. The LONMIN workers are victims of structural violence in our society. This is informed by low wages, very bad living conditions, bad nutrition, health and safety problems, HIV and AIDS and no hope for a better life."
–The Right Reverend Dr Jo Seoka - Anglican Bishop of Pretoria and chairperson of Bench Marks Foundation at the Just World Conference 2012 in Johannesburg - 30 October 2012 "Approximately 69 000 miners died in accidents in [South Africa] in the first 93 years of this century and more than a million were seriously injured. In 1993, out of every 100 000 gold miners, 113 died in accidents, 2 000 suffered a reportable injury, 1 100 developed active tuberculosis and of these 25 died; in 1990 about 500 were identified as having silicosis."
–Laurie Flynn - Submission to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 1998 Figure 1: Ex-mine workers, still seeking compensation for injuries and ill-health "Few countries in the world are as renowned as South Africa for the sharp contrast between extravagant wealth and luxury on the one hand, and extreme poverty and destitution on the other."
—Prof Sampie Terblanche. A history of inequality in South Africa 1652-2002. 2002 1 Introduction The health, socio-economic and environmental impacts of mining occur throughout every phase of its life cycle, from the cradle of exploration to the grave (and beyond) of abandoned mine shafts, disowned mountains of tailings1 dams and lakes of polluted water.
Overwhelmingly, the products of mining are sold into the commodities exchanges of the global capitalist system, physically, and in every other way, remote from the living and working conditions of the workers who produce these commodities. Our case studies of gold and platinum mining in South Africa are exemplars of this process, glimpsed through the experience and words of affected communities and workers. The direct experience of a handful of the interviewees can only reflect a small part of the total reality, but their stories reflect both their dire present circumstances and the ghosts and memories of the past.
The life cycle of mining starts with exploration for exploitable deposits, often preceded by the forced removal (or forced sale) of those who own and /or occupy the land, followed by the construction of mining infrastructure, then the ‘productive phase’ of the mining of the ore and the extraction and beneficiation of the metal. The final closure of an exhausted mine theoretically includes the rehabilitation of the land, but this rarely occurs. Abandonment is more the norm, leaving a legacy of vast quantities of solid waste in the form of tailings (slimes) dams and waste rock, lakes of polluted water and a devastated environment, both above and below ground.
Health impacts occur during every phase of mining. The health impacts of the displacement of rural communities at the mining site, whether subsistence farmers or farm workers is rarely recognised. In South Africa, historically under colonial conquest and Apartheid, and through to the present under the neoliberal economic paradigm that is beholden to mining interests, this thirst for cheap migrant labour is slaked by destroying the livelihoods of distant rural communities, through acts of omission and commission Figure 2: A sunflower crop behind newly erected barbed (Callinicos L, 1980; Terblanche S, 2002). In wire fence, platinum belt the platinum belt, farms bought through forced sales resulted in the eviction of farm workers into squatter-camps. The newly acquired farms are enclosed with razor wire and vigorously patrolled by private security personnel, excluding workers from still-arable land and denying them access to crops left to wither through neglect or under the impact of air polluted by smelter emissions.
The exposure of large numbers of workers to hazardous working and living conditions (high dust levels, extreme heat, ergonomic risks, Figure 3: Ore processing and smelter operation, platinum safety hazards and crowded single-sex belt Ore is crushed, milled and processed to extract the gold or platinum.
The ‘tailings’ are the waste 1 residue from the extraction process, usually dumped as a slurry (solid/ liquid mixture) in an embankment dam and left to drain and dry out.
The mining, metal extraction and beneficiation phases are accompanied by air and water pollution, the generation of solid waste deposited on tailings dams and waste rock stockpiles, the abstraction of vast quantities of water and the use of huge quantities of energy (Norgate and Haque, 2012; Glaister and Mudd, 2010), all with direct or indirect health consequences. A concomitant legacy is that of huge numbers of unemployed workers and disrupted (mainly rural) societies, and a burden of disease and poverty suffered by both current Figure 4: Dust storm off a tailings dump, platinum belt and former mine workers and successive generations of their families. A much larger population is likely to be affected by the legacy of a devastated environment (Durand, 2012), for decades and centuries after mining has ceased.
The wealth generated through the mine’s productive years accrues mainly to the owners and shareholders, invariably located far away from the site of mining. The meagre wages that accrue to workers are inadequate compensation for their output or for the brutal conditions of work. An ineffective, inadequate and inequitable compensation system for work injuries and death at work or for mining related diseases compounds the social injustice (Ehrlich R. 2012;
Ladou J. 2012). Woefully inadequate mine closure funds mean that society as a whole bears the burden and costs of the polluted and damaged environment.
What is the balance sheet of the burdens and benefits – health, socio-economic and environmental – of mining, judged over its whole life cycle?
Gold mining in South Africa (SA) Gold has been mined in SA for more than 120 years, producing a cumulative total (to 2010) of about 51 200 tons (derived from Short and Radebe, 2008; Chamber of Mines, 2011), about 30% of the cumulative world production (to 2010) of 157 000 to 180 000 tons, about 85% of which remains in circulation (Norgate and Haque, 2011). For several decades South Africa was the largest gold producer in the world, with production peaking at about 1000 tons in 1975, although declining to less than 200 tons/ year in recent years. Newly produced gold is used mainly for jewellery (46%) and as an investment (37%), and other uses (17%).
(Chamber of Mines, 2010). In the past and during the current period, gold has played a crucial role in the world financial system (World Gold Council, 2013). The South African mine worker, drawn from the rural areas of South Africa as well as surrounding countries – Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Angola - can therefore be said to be a world historical figure.
At the current gold price of about US$1 700/oz, the cumulative gold production of 51 200 tons may be valued at 2.8 trillion US$, about seven times South Africa’s current annual Gross Domestic Product. Yet, what residue remains of this enormous wealth extracted from the soil and toil of hundreds of thousands of workers? Employment in gold mines peaked at 531 000 in the 1985 (Short and Radebe, 2008) but declined to about 157 000 in 2010. An ex-mine worker is typically unemployed, poor, suffering from one or a combination of mine related diseases (TB, silicosis, HIV-AIDS and/or physical injuries), with a shortened life span, 3 a poor quality of life, surviving on a government pension or grant (if SA) or, in the absence of a pension, with the support of his family.
South African gold mines are among the deepest in the world, with a depth of up to 3.9 km (SPG Media Group, 2013). Underground working conditions are arduous if not brutal.
Rock face temperatures are up to 55oC, humidity levels are high and poor control of exposure to dust, coupled with poor health surveillance systems, give rise to a high incidence of dust related disease.
The recent high price of gold and development of new extraction Figure 5: Superdump for gold mine tailings and partially treated technology have enabled the effluent water increased re-mining of tailings dams.
This process increases the emission of wind-blown dust from tailings dams and the dust exposure to surrounding communities.
The burden of disease bequeathed by the gold mining industry is best illustrated by the
following (Murray et al., 2011):
“Importantly, the proportion of black gold miners found to have silicosis at autopsy increased from 3 per cent in 1975 to 32 per cent in 2007. [Under apartment black mine workers were hardly ever diagnosed with silicosis.] Biologic and social factors combine to create a ‘perfect storm’ for the interaction among silicosis, TB, and HIV. Silicosis substantially increases the risk of TB to a magnitude similar to that of HIV infection. Importantly, silica exposure is associated with TB even in the absence of silicosis and the increased risk is life-long. Risk factors such as migrancy and single-sex compounds increase high-risk sexual behaviour, and thus HIV rates, which are close to 30 per cent among these miners. The TB risks of silicosis and HIV infection combine multiplicatively. Consequently, the highest recorded rates of TB worldwide have been reported in South African gold miners.
Mortality from TB is higher than that from mine accidents. The prevalence of TB in gold miners has increased from 806 per 100 000 in 1991 to 3821in
2004. HIV prevalence rose from less than 1 per cent in 1987 to 27per cent in 2000."
Social disruption caused by the labour practices of the industry “Although well below the half million employed in the 1990s, South African gold mines still employ approximately 160 000 people. The industry is characterized by male cross-border and internal rural-urban migrants who leave their families and live mostly in single-sex mining compounds, returning home for variable periods. These social circumstances and stabilization have contributed to serious interrelated epidemics of silicosis, tuberculosis, and HIV infection in miners, in surrounding communities and in labor-sending regions. Post-apartheid reforms deracialized legislation, but race remains an important determinant of occupation, salary, housing, and disease burden.” 4 The legacy of environmental impacts of mining in the world’s largest gold and uranium mining basin, with the extraction of more than 50 000 tons of gold (and more than 80 000 tons of uranium) over 120 years include about 400 km2 of mostly unlined mine tailings dams and 6 billion tons of tailings containing 430 000 tons low-grade uranium. (Mine Closure,
2008) In the Witwatersrand Gold Fields region the growing threat of flooding of abandoned mine voids and the decanting of the resultant Acid Mine Drainage into groundwater resources, used for agricultural and human consumption, has been raised with increasing urgency by NGOs and academics (see, for example, Liefferink (FSE), 2012; Durand, 2012).
The SA government finally appointed an inter-ministerial committee to report on the matter (DWAF, 2010), although a response commensurate with the magnitude of the problem is still awaited.
Because of the low grade of South African gold ores (about 5.2 g/ton of ore in 2006 declining to about 2.80 g/ton in 2011), at the latter grade about 500 000 tons of ore have to be crushed and milled to produce a ton of gold or about 16 tons ore per ounce of gold. (Chamber of Mines, 2012).
Additional environmental impacts include electricity consumption (average 140 GJ/kg gold), water usage (average 700 m3/kg gold) and CO2e emissions (average 12 t CO2_e/kg gold) (Glaister and Mudd, Figure 6: Gold mine tailings re-mining operation of exposed 2010). The South African government (vegetation removed) tailings dump has been singularly ineffectual in holding mines past and present to account for the environmental damage caused, including radiation risks, caused by their activities (van Eeden et al, 2009).
Gold Mining Interviews
We feel it is critical to hear directly from miners and those living in mining communities in order to convey the depth of difficulty this population faces on a daily basis: of extreme poverty, multiple co-morbidities driven by mining and the social conditions surrounding mines, the social damage and fear they experience, and the lack of pathway out. We interviewed over two dozen individuals in four mining communities near Cape Town, South Africa in January 2013. Interviewees included miners, ministers, health workers, and others.
We talked to the disabled and to entrenched workers, community residents experiencing illness due to gold mine dust, trauma counselors and community workers. We hope these testimonials help to paint a realistic, true picture of mining in contemporary South Africa.
Interviews with TUDOR Shaft Community Members - 17 January 2013 About 2000 residents continue to live in shacks on a gold mine tailings dump. A recent soil sample analysis requested by the Federation for a Sustainable Environment showed elevated levels of aluminium, arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, copper, mercury, manganese, nickel, zinc and uranium. An independent international expert in 2011 found radiation levels 15 times higher than Figure 7: Tudor Shaft Informal Settlement 5 the regulated level. He advised on the immediate relocation of the community. The National Nuclear Regulator of South Africa confirmed the grounds were indeed radioactive and Parliament recommended relocation of the community in 2011. The majority of them are still living here. No health outcome studies related to the exposure of the community to high levels of radiation is as yet available.
Here is what community members had to say.
We have been living here for up to 10 years.