Johannesburg - Tick. Tick. Tick. The Geiger counter beeped frantically. Just a few metres outside of mine property, it was detecting high levels of ionising radioactivity on public land.
The team from the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) noted the readings taken here at the troubled Blyvooruitzicht mine, a few kilometres outside Carletonville, west of Joburg, and promised they would be sent to the Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA for further analysis.
This week, the NNR was part of an interdepartmental investigation team, including the Green Scorpions, drawn from the Gauteng and national offices, the Blue Scorpions, the Department of Mineral Resources and the Tlokwe Municipality, who pounced on the mine.
Their investigation was part of the criminal case laid by Mariette Liefferink, of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, against the chief executive and directors of Village Main Reef and DRD Gold, for numerous environmental infractions committed between 2008 and this year.
Carletonville falls within the heavily-mined Wonderfonteinspruit catchment area, and has been built around gold mines like Blyvooruitzicht. Following its liquidation, it has been taken over by the controversial Goldrich Holdings, managed by Fazel Bhana and Thulani Ngubane, who were implicated in the 2010 mine stripping debacle at Grootvlei and Orkney mines.
The inter-departmental team collected several water samples from local canals and took soil samples from mine spillages but told the Saturday Star they were awaiting the outcome of the analysis before they could comment on the alleged infractions.
Ben Nel, the chief chemist at Tlokwe Municipality, said he was worried about the impacts on downstream water users like Potchefstroom because underground mine water at some shafts was being treated and was pouring into the Wonderfonteinspruit.
“We have picked up that a lot of this water is going down to the Wonderfonteinspruit and we don’t know what the quality is. It eventually ends up in Boskop Dam and that is one of the main sources of water for our community. We know there is a lot of neglect going on all over the place.”
A former mine manager, who could not be named, pointed to a dam on the mine’s property overflowing with turquoise-coloured mine water. “That is mine water from underground that is supposed to be used in the mine’s processes but it is now just flowing into the Wonderfonteinspruit. It’s most probably high in uranium and when the mine is in operation, you have to process this water in the plant.”
Liefferink was heartened by the government’s response to her complaint. “The fact that all organs of state are co-operating together is very rare. I hope that it will be a successful criminal prosecution, that may set a legal precedent for the future. If there is any such incidence again of environmental crimes, or contraventions, I hope this case can be used as case law.”
Albi Modise, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Affairs, said a search warrant had been executed in relation to Liefferink’s allegations of environmental contraventions. “The search was therefore aimed at investigating the allegations related to environmental pollution emanating from the mine. The visit to the site was part of the criminal investigation.
“The findings will be incorporated into the relevant statements that form part of the criminal docket and that will be referred to the National Prosecuting Authority for a decision on whether or not to prosecute.”
The mine manager added that he was distraught about the state of Blyvoor. “I spent my whole life on this mine. It has got huge potential under the ground. In the plant alone, that is why the Zama Zamas (illegal miners) are everywhere, there is lying R3 billion of gold. The downfall of Blyvoor – maybe I’m guilty as well – is because of bad planning, bad management.”