When a ‘radiological hotspot’ is your home
Johannesburg - Thandeka Mkhehlane pushes her twins in their dusty second-hand pram, navigating the dirty, narrow alleys that separate the shacks of Tudor Shaft, an informal settlement on the forlorn fringes of Krugersdorp.
She would rather be anywhere but here. The bleak shack where she is raising her three sons - the eldest is nine - is less than 10m from the yellow mine dump that encircles Tudor Shaft, and which she blames for her children’s near-constant poor health.
When it rains, the tailings from the mound of toxic soil pour into her and her neighbours' homes. And there’s nowhere to escape when the dust billows.
“My children are always sick,” says Mkhehlane, looking worried. “They have runny noses and rashes that don’t go away. They struggle to breathe. I need to leave this place for the sake of my children’s health. It’s a disaster.”
Tudor Shaft’s mine dump is so radioactive that it’s a declared “radiological hotspot”.
In recent years, several government agencies, including the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) and Department of Mineral Resources, have advised that the roughly 2 000 residents be urgently relocated.
In 2011, Mogale City - on the instruction of the NNR - relocated families living on top of the mine dump to shacks elsewhere. In recent weeks, several more residents have been relocated to RDP houses in Extension 13 in nearby Kagiso.
But because Mkhehlane’s husband earns too much as a security guard, there’s uncertainty over their fate. Many other residents who have not been moved feel the same sense of impatience.
“We live right next to this dump, but we’re not being moved,” says a frustrated Mkhehlane.
In The Cost of Gold, a new report on the impact of gold mining on the West and Central Rand, researchers from Harvard Law School single out Tudor Shaft as the government’s most notable accomplishment in addressing the dangers of mine tailings on the West Rand by relocating community members who lived on the tailings dam.
But the relocation project was narrow in scope and failed to provide a satisfactory long-term solution because relocation didn't extend to families living at the foot of the tailings dam.
“The government’s relocation of most at risk residents of Tudor Shaft didn’t begin to address the larger issue, namely the proximity of many settlements in the West and Central Rand to tailings dams. The government appears not to have initiated comparable relocations of other communities situated near tailings dams.”
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Mariette Liefferink of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment has long drawn awareness over the plight of the “hapless residents” of Tudor Shaft.
“It’s positive that people are being moved, but once again the government’s approach is knee-jerk and incomplete,” she says.
Across the road, at Tudor Dam, a group of residents wonder too why they aren't being relocated, although others have been.
The radioactivity levels in the soil at Tudor Dam are 10 000 becquerel/km. The regulatory limit is 500Bq/kg.
“We live with all this radiation, yet no one cares about us,” shrugs one resident.