Acid mine drainage and its governance in the Gauteng City-Region

Bobbins, Kerry
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Acid mine drainage (AMD) in the Gauteng City-Region (GCR) has been described in the media as a ticking time bomb after it was officially reported to have begun surfacing from old mining works on the West Rand in 2002 (Masondo et al., 2011; TAU SA, 2011; Slack, 2013). Acid mine drainage occurs when ‘fool’s gold’ (FeS2) or iron pyrite found in mined rock oxidises. This occurs when either underground mine shafts, or crushed conglomerate in Mine Residue Areas (MRAs) on the surface, become exposed to oxygen and water creating run-off that is very high in sulphates – effectively sulphuric acid – and is hazardous to both humans and the environment (McCarthy 2010). Over the last decade, a flurry of news articles have highlighted the threat of acid water decant and its likely effects on human health, the environment, water quality, municipal infrastructure and building foundations in the Johannesburg Central Business District (CBD). These reports have fuelled anxieties around when and where decant will take place and who will be affected by AMD. In response to these concerns, government, through the National Department of Water Affairs (DWA), has introduced a set of immediate and short-term interventions to overcome decant in the West Rand. These have allowed AMD to be framed as an environmental emergency. DWA has also set in motion a process to develop a long-term solution that, through a broader and more inclusive approach, will solve various AMD issues over time including its impact on the Gauteng water supply. In relation to both these two government interventions – the immediate/short and long-term solutions – very few stakeholders or members of the public know enough about AMD and its governance to understand what the real challenges are and how they should respond. Even fewer are able to piece together the series of events that led up to the current and proposed set of actions taken by DWA to tackle AMD. This paper argues that the current trajectory of government-led responses has suspended meaningful public engagement and debate, and the result is a grey cloud of misinterpreted facts and presumed motives that has cast a shadow of misunderstanding, which in turn exacerbates the anxieties of affected communities and interested stakeholder groups