GUEST OPINION PIECE: The True Effect of Mining

Mining is not part of a development plan.  It is a process that extracts minerals from the earth and enriches a few and impoverishes the majority, so the claim that mining is necessary for social and economic development, is a political promise that will not be delivered.

Let’s take a closer look at what mining provides a society.  The World Bank’s own research report, “Where is the Wealth of the Nations?” presents empirical evidence that mining reduces a country’s savings, i.e., it makes countries poorer rather than wealthier.

mining

In South Africa, mining is destroying the land we need to grow our crops that sustain life, the water we need to nourish life and the air we breathe to ensure life.  If you live in a mining area, it means you will suffer the impact of mining and you will probably die younger and be afflicted by more illnesses than those that get rich from mining.

The eastern Highveld is fertile and water-rich. It is the source of several major rivers, including the Olifants, the Komati, the Usutu and the Vaal, and as such is a critical food-producing region. Over a century of mining and burning of coal has damaged large parts of the Highveld. The hydrological functions are interrupted by underground and open cast coal mining, with the latter causing wide-scale destruction of the land. The land is also coated in coal dust from blasting and acid deposition from combustion emissions. Groundwater and rivers are contaminated by acid mine drainage to the extent that entire catchment areas are turning into wastelands.

The promises by mining companies and government of wealth for local people, work for the unemployed, rehabilitation of the land after destruction, and a better life for all, are never met.  Over half of the people living in South Africa are poor, according to official statistics,and in the Highveld, the poverty rate is amplified, so such promises are especially attractive to the people there.  The reality, however, is that the mining sector is shedding jobs and reaping in increasing profits.

Mining is failing South Africa.  Research by groundWork, the Centre for Environmental Rights, and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies highlight the accumulation of wealth, failed governance and false promises.  In the Bliss of Ignorance documentary, people on the ground spoke first-hand of how coal mining destroys people’s lives.

The desolate ‘post-mining’ landscape is all the delivery people get in mining areas. People and the land are abandoned on the scrap heap of mining waste and companies flee with profits and rehabilitation funds.

So while government lies and ignores people they are forced to listen to the courts.


Written by: Bobby Peek, Director at groundWork