Radioactive Africa

Who and what are the drivers of change? What is happening? What can be done?
  • Mine dump creation
  • Acid mine drainage
  • Mine dust particles
  • Mine polluted water
  • Mining sinkholes
  • The extensive mining that is taking place in South Africa is negatively impacting the natural environment as well as the people living around the mines.
  • Mines in populated areas should be closed down.
  • Implement strict legislation to decrease the environmental impact.
  • Research alternative mining methods.

Introduction

Using theories presented by Poul Holm et al. in their article, ‘Humanities for the Environment – A Manifesto for research and action’ (2015) as well theories presented by Shelby Grant and Mary Lawhon in their article, ‘Reporting on rhinos: analysis of the newspaper coverage of rhino poaching’ (2014), as well as making use of three news articles (see References) that relate to the mining crisis in South Africa to do an extensive analysis of how the media has reacted to, and what can be done about, the destructive relationship between mining and the environment.

Brief Overview of Mining in South Africa

South Africa’s economy has long depended on the revenue and trade created by the large mining operations speckled over South Africa’s vast landscape. While this has been very beneficial to our waning economic sector, it has very negatively impacted the natural environment and the people involved or around the mining districts. Over the last 100 years, the mining in South Africa has severely polluted the country’s water supply, the natural food chain, and people’s health (IRIN, 2008).

Johannesburg, seen by many as the hub of mining in South Africa, has been the most negatively impacted area by mining in South Africa. For years sinkholes have seemed to appear at random, ripping the ground out from underneath people’s homes as well as factories (Brown, 2014). This is just one of the many symptoms of a greater issue that has arisen due to the extensive mining taking place in the Johannesburg area.

In fact, in many situations, people themselves are often the ones suffering the most from what the mining industry has done to the South African landscape. Mine dumps – those imposing, golden-hued, synthetic mountains that loom around mining areas – are responsible for poisoning the health, specifically the lungs, of individuals living in the vicinity of the mines (Balch, 2015). Fine dust often laced with traces of copper, lead or even cyanide and arsenic covers the townships surrounding the mines, enveloping the residents in a lifetime of ill-health and misery.

Do the drivers for change relate to the “Great Acceleration” of human technologies, powers and consumption?

The “Great Acceleration” can simply be defined as the way in which humans have over more than half of the last decade, used technologies and other powers to increase their levels of consumption in such a way that has caused it to be a key driver of Global Change (Holm, 2015:980). Increased human consumption has resulted in adverse changes to the planet’s atmospheric gas distribution, further extinction of species, climate change, water pollution and more. These negative impacts on the environment will continue to haunt the health and lifestyles of humans on earth for centuries to come unless dramatic changes in production and consumption are implemented (Holm, 2015:980).

Using the above definition in context of the three media articles from IRINnews.org (2008), CSMoniter.com (2014), and TheGuardian.com (2015), it can be seen that the key drivers of mining pollution in South Africa are related to the ways in which the mines extract the minerals they desire from the earth as well as the ways in which the mines dispose of their waste. This behaviour exhibited by mining companies in South Africa can most definitely be linked to the “Great Acceleration”, as the only reason for the mines existence is to feed humanities desire for basic as well as extravagant commodities.

Politically it can be seen that the reason mines are such an important factor in South Africa is that they gave the country economic power to leverage in the political international arena. The richer the country, the more political power they tend to have. The mining industry in South Africa is one of the key reasons that the nation rose to international prominence in the early twentieth century. Culturally and socially, Western society has always been one that has exploited the natural and human resources within an area to further their own progress. This can easily be seen to tie into the “Great Acceleration” of humankind.

How does the absence or presence of solutions relate to “The New Human Condition”?

The “New Human Condition” can be defined as to “how [humans] choose to identify, respond to and cope with the consequences and responsibilities of environmental concerns. Do [humans] respond in denial, despair, alarmism or action?”

The IRINnews.org article mentions that although environmental activists have responded in both alarmism and action in that they have been instrumental in changing laws surrounding the mining industry, many mining companies have responded in denial and have refused to adhere to stricter mining regulations and thus continue to pollute the areas around the mines (IRIN, 2008).

In the CSMonitor.com article, it is discussed how since the founding of mining companies in South Africa a denial of responsibility to clean up in an accountable manner has always been a problem. Even after Apartheid fell, the newly democratic mining companies still didn’t acknowledge their responsibility to clean up the mess left by their predecessors (Brown, 2014).

TheGuardian.com article states that many of the residents have responded in despair, as there is nowhere for them to go, and in many cases many of them rely on the mining industry as a form of income. Rasalind Plaatjies, a resident in one of Johannesburg’s mining districts who suffers from severe respiratory problems that are a direct result of air pollution from the mines, states that she feels fortunate that she hasn’t passed away yet like many of her elderly friends (Balch, 2015). This is a clear example of how despair has turned into helplessness and unhappy complacency.

Do the proposed solutions engage with the business/corporate sector?

The only article that mentions proposed solutions is the article on IRINnews.org. There it is talked about how environmentalists have been responsible for driving the recognition of the need for stricter legislation surrounding the mining industry. Stricter legislation is never seen as a good thing in the business or corporate sector as it usually results in a loss of revenue. This usually occurs when a company has to implement new practices that cost more or have to research new ways to carry out production processes that can take years to implement successfully. Many mining organisations have been hesitant or have vehemently been refusing to implement new processes required by legislation.

Do the proposed solutions and means to do it stem from collaborative processes of research, stakeholder engagement and public participation?

There seems to be very little public participation as most members of the public that are affected have become complacent with their situation and have done little to fight for better conditions of living. There will always be little to no stakeholder engagement as they are fully aware that by bringing attention to the pollution caused by mining they will most likely end up losing money. Stakeholders are more likely to actively fight against positive legislation than support it. Possibly the only collaborative process that has actively sought to improve the mining situation is that of environmental research. Researchers, such as Bench Marks, are part of the few organisations that do impact assessments of the mining taking place in the Johannesburg area (Balch, 2015).

Are the solutions translated into practical means that can easily be achieved by the public?

Due to the highly industrialised nature of mining, there is very little that the public can do on an individual basis that will actually affect the way in which mining in South Africa is conducted.

Conclusion

It can be seen that as Holm et al explains with the theories of “Great Acceleration” that humanities need for commodities from the highly industrialised mining sector has resulted in a variety of responses from different members of the public and private sector. Mining in South Africa has resulted in vast amounts of pollution that requires the attention of both the public as well as new legislation and enforcement from the government.

References

Balch, O. 2015. Radioactive city: how Johannesburg’s townships are paying for its mining past.[Online] Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/jul/06/radioactive-city-how-johannesburgs-townships-are-paying-for-its-mining-past. [Accessed: 01/04/2016]

Brown, R. 2014. Built on gold riches, Johannesburg succumbs to sci-fi sinkholes. [Online] Available from: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/2014/0909/Built-on-gold-riches-Johannesburg-succumbs-to-sci-fi-sinkholes. [Accessed: 01/04/2016]

Grant, S & Lawhon, M. 2014. Reporting on rhinos: analysis of the newspaper coverage of rhino poaching. Southern African Journal of Environmental Education 30:39-52.

Holm, P et al. 2015. Humanities for the Environment – A manifesto for research and action. Humanites 4:977-992.

IRIN News. 2008. Paying the price for mining. [Online] Available from: http://www.irinnews.org/report/76780/south-africa-paying-price-mining. [Accessed: 01/04/2016]

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