Mines to carry 67% of acid mining clean-up costs - minister

Johannesburg – The mining sector would pay 67% of a multi-billion-rand acid mine water treatment plant in Gauteng, Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane said on Wednesday.

The project was expected to cost between R10bn and R12bn, she said in Germiston, on the East Rand, at the announcement of a long-term solution for acid mine drainage.

She did not indicate when it would be completed. 

The first phase, implemented in April 2011 was an "emergency works" project - an interim remedy until a permanent and sustainable solution was developed. The second phase was the treatment plant.

While the mining sector was set to bear the brunt of the cost through an environmental levy, water users would have to pay the remaining 33%, she said.

Mokonyane said, although the mining sector caused acid mine drainage, it would not pay for the total cost to prevent "unnecessary overburdening" of the sector. Other water users would pay for the rest because the country benefited from mining.

"With the support of National Treasury, we have decided to cap the contributions of water users to the cost of dealing with the problem to only 33% of the project."

‘Polluter pays principle’

Despite government promising to bear some of the cost, it would enforce the "polluter pays" principle.

"We are not shying away from what has happened in the past. The previous South African government has never done anything of this nature. Acid mining drainage has been a problem for a long time. We will ensure fairness.

"We must appreciate that we have a home-grown solution by home-grown people."

Acid mine water is a legacy of 120 years of gold mining on the Witwatersrand. It is formed when old shafts and tunnels fill up with water. When the mineral pyrite - better known as fool's gold - reacts with water and oxygen, sulphuric acid is produced. This decants into the environment - a process known as acid mine drainage.

The rising water was also threatening the mining of the remaining gold under Johannesburg.

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