Toxic city: The cost of gold mining in South Africa

2019-02-11 14:59
Gold mining. (iStock)

Gold mining. (iStock)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

In the midst of Johannesburg are mountains of sandy dirt – tall, geometric, and as much a part of the landscape as the city's glittering skyline.

Winds stir up dust from the dunes and carry it to nearby homes where it settles on roofs, roads, and areas where children play, often in South Africa's poorest townships.

But what look like natural landmarks are in fact piles of waste from the country's 130-year-old gold industry and contain heavy metals like lead and arsenic as well as radioactive waste.

More than 1.5 million South Africans live in settlements at the bases of these mountains. Residents, activists, and local doctors have long been worried about the risks.

'A silent killer'

The dust causes violent coughing and vomiting and, in some households, children have severe neurological disorders.

"The dust itself … gets into our food. We eat this dust, we drink this dust, so that is why so many people are sick here," says Tiny Dlamini, an activist and resident of Snake Park, a community within Dobonsville township. "This is a silent killer."

The threat of contamination is hard to escape; at the foot of her neighbourhood's mining heap is greenish water that is used for irrigating land or feeding livestock, and some children bathe in it.

According to a 2013 study by North-West University in South Africa, the city contains 600 000 tonnes of uranium, which are a source of radioactive waste.

The potential danger is not lost on Igor Klopcic, a geologist who left the mining industry in frustration after 20 years.

"What I find particularly scandalous … [is] to take the worst possible material, which is uranium, grind it into dust comparable to flour and make a hill out of it, and put it into a place where people live. That is a colossally bad idea," he says.

Despite complaints, the government has yet to fund scientific studies that examine the issue.

Journalist Martin Boudot works with residents to collect data; soil and hair samples are mailed off to laboratories, and along with it a hope that the city will wake up to its contamination problem.

But as data starts to trickle in, a larger question arises: Why has there been so little research into this issue – one that seems obvious and alarming for so many – for so long?

KEEP UPDATED on the latest news by subscribing to our FREE newsletter.

- FOLLOW News24 on Twitter

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  mining  |  pollution
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

 
/News
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.