South Africa needs improved environmental, water and mining legislation to prevent our freshwater resources from being polluted by mining activities, particularly acid mine drainage. To achieve this, our lawmakers should take a leaf out of Germany's legal framework which offers a few helpful tips.
This is the view of candidate attorney Dr Marianca Louw who obtained her doctorate in Public Law on Monday (14 December 2020) at SU's December graduation.
Passionate about human and environmental rights as well as environmental law, Louw focused on South Africa's water and mining law by analysing water quality protection frameworks.
As part of her study, she compared the country's legal framework with that of Germany and also described and analysed various legal documents, policies and international conventions and treaties on environmental law.
“One of the reasons for comparing our environmental, water and mining legislation with that of Germany is that, in a certain sense, we find ourselves in a similar position to that which faced Germany after reunification in 1990 when lignite and uranium mining activities as well as the chemical industries during the time of the German Democratic Republic left behind a devastated landscape and environment."
Louw acknowledges that the mining sector is one of the critical pillars and drivers of our economy, but says it's also a big polluter of our water.
“We need an enhanced water quality protection law that can contribute to the protection of our water resources from acid mine drainage and to ensure we have safe water for continued and sustained economic growth and service delivery."
Louw says we should amend our current legislation so that water and mining permits or licences are regulated by one authority and not by separate entities.
“The German legal framework shows that these licenses are better regulated when only one authority grants the water and mining license."
She adds that just as in the German legal framework, our legislation also needs to provide for a water treatment plant without which mining activities cannot commence.
“After the mining and water permit has been granted to the mining company, it must build a water treatment plant in accordance with regulations to ensure that mine water is treated before, during and after mining operations. This will immediately contribute to the remedying of acid mine drainage, as this plant will continue with the treatment of mine water, even after the closure of the mine."
Louw points out that in Germany, mining companies must pay a deposit as a guarantee before they start operating to ensure there are sufficient funds for remediation after the closure of mines.
“South Africa has a similar financial provision, but it does not provide for a financial guarantee before mining activities commence."
It should be recommended that if a mining company cannot provide a financial guarantee for remediation after the closure of the mine, a percentage of the mining profit should be paid monthly to the mining authority. If the company fails to do this, the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy should close the mine."
Louw says when mining activities cease, a closure and rehabilitation plan must be submitted.
“The legislation should be amended in such a manner that the mining company remains liable for environmental degradation until the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy is satisfied with the rehabilitation. Since acid mine drainage is a recurring problem, sufficient financial aids must be provided to ensure the protection of natural freshwater."
According to Louw, improved legislation is important because mining activities will continue to disturb established drainage patterns, often causing waterlogging and erosion, and lead to the contamination of surface and groundwater, poisoning of food crops, endangering human health, and the destruction of wildlife, ecosystems, and infrastructure and heritage sites.
She adds that the effectiveness of the South African legal framework to protect freshwater resources from environmental degradation caused by acid mine drainage will depend on solid political will, sufficient human and financial resources and dedicated involvement from all relevant government departments, in close cooperation with the private sector.
- Photo: Dr Marianca Louw at the graduation. Photographer: Stefan Els
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Dr Marianca Louw
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