Children of the Mountain

Macfarlane Moleli
By Macfarlane Moleli | Follow @macmoleli
Macfarlane Moleli has over 14 years’ experience as a journalist in the media and entertainment industry. Recently he worked at Kaya FM, eNCA and SABC 3. Well-versed in in-depth interviews on current affairs, contentious issues in politics, business, sports and environmental issues, Macfarlane now brings his presentin [...] See full profile

There is nothing that upsets me more than seeing people suffer, especially those who are less fortunate than most. People whose lives are riddled with poverty, crime and a lack of resources. What is even more heartbreaking, is to see the children raised in these circumstances, who have little hope and almost nothing going for them. It’s unfortunate that even after such a long time, we are still crippled by our past and suffocate from life due to inequality, economic imbalances and a government which seems not to care.

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One cannot ignore South Africa’s history with the mining industry; it is an industry which formed the backbone of our economy for many years. In fact, the province of Gauteng borrows its name from the Sotho word Gauta that means gold and thus Johannesburg is fondly known as the city of gold… However we also cannot ignore the fact that these riches, which only benefitted a few, all came at a hefty price on the environment, society and many broken families. Due to apartheid, spatial planning and the greed of the mining houses, people were also forced to live in close proximity to the mines so they could get to work.

One such area is Snake Park where government-built homes, extended with tin shacks, are squeezed in between old Soweto and a mine waste dump that has been there for over a century. The people call it ‘The Mountain’.  This is where people, animals and the environment have had to live with the toxins emanating from one of the worlds largest mine dumps. According to the South African Chamber of Mines guideline, people shouldn’t live closer than 500 metres to a mine dump. This is not the case with Snake Park, and upon visiting The Mountain with the Carte Blanche team, we were shocked by what we discovered. We spoke to the locals and got to know that in almost every street there are one or two, and sometimes up to three, children born with cerebral palsy. This is a disorder that affects brain development, often causing problems with speaking, vision and muscle movement.

Children and residents of Snake Park are plagued by TB, lung problems and silicosis. Many people also often complain of sore eyes. These poor children living in shacks, whose parents cannot work due to their children needing extra care and having special needs, are in a dire situation. Their parents are mostly single mothers who are unemployed and cannot afford to take them to special schools. Some children are abandoned at children’s homes due to shame and the stigma of having a disabled child. Now, we cannot for certain say that this is all caused by the mines. However David Van Wyk, a sociologist and principal researcher for the Bench Marks Foundation, a foundation which monitors the ethics of mining companies, says “there is a very, very close link between cerebral palsy and uranium, but it could also be caused by arsenic, it could also be caused by lead. If you ingest uranium, it can change your DNA codes and your DNA codes can scramble the way the kids come out”. 

All these toxins are found at the mine dump which is near Snake Park, and nobody wants to take responsibility; not the mines, not government, nobody.