A wetland under threat: Residents and civic, faith, educational and environmental activists living near a beautiful wetland called Princess Vlei in Cape Town have just won a big victory (March 2014). They pressured the City of Cape Town to cancel permission for a big shopping mall to be built next to the vlei. The Princess Vlei Forum fought against this “destructive and inappropriate development”.

AMD: A mine that is often in the news is the Grootvlei mine near Springs, outside Johannesburg. In 2010 Mining Weekly.com reported that the mine “will flood with acid mine water in five days, closing down operations, if action is not taken,” and that, “Acid mine drainage was affecting the Western, Central and Eastern Basins of the Witwatersrand gold fields area, which had negatively affected the Vaal and the Crocodile River systems.” This old mine continued to operate until recently, changing hands many times. But the costs of pumping out the acid water were increasing, making the mine less profitable. The owners are being helped by the Department of Mineral Resources. Today it is no longer officially mined, but many illegal miners have been killed in the unsafe working conditions.

In 2006 in North West Province AMD in old shafts threatened to flood operational mines belonging to Harmony and Anglogold, and pollute the huge Vaal River system. One of the owners of the old shafts went bankrupt and stopped pumping and treating the poisonous water. After several court battles, the Supreme Court of Appeal finally ordered that Harmony and AngloGold help to deal with the polluted water, even though they did not own the problem-causing mines.

Asbestos and disease: The mineral asbestos is now a banned building material because it is known to cause deadly diseases in some of the miners and people living around the asbestos dumps. It is also dangerous to go near broken up asbestos roofing or gutters as the fibres can be breathed into, and damage, your lungs. There are still many abandoned asbestos dumps. The Department of Mineral Resources is spending millions making them safe, and it will still take many years of work. Victims have successfully claimed compensation for their diseases from some of the mining companies. (If you know anyone who could claim, Click here – www.asbestostrust.co.za/ARTindex.htm)

Illegally dumped toxic waste: In April 2013 a three-year-old girl died and twenty other children were hospitalised when they played with illegally dumped, toxic chemicals near Delft, Cape Town. Hazardous (dangerous) waste must, by law, be taken to special dump sites where it can be dealt with safely. ENCA.com news reported that the City of Cape Town spends R200 million every year cleaning up illegally dumped waste.

The ‘toilet wars’: Sanitation is necessary – for both health and human dignity – where many people gather to live. If faeces and urine and rubbish are left to rot in the open they can spread disease and enter water systems, causing deadly diseases like cholera. As urban areas grow councils are struggling to afford and supply toilets and clean, piped water. So ‘service delivery protests’ have become common. In May 2011, a High Court Judge said the DA-run city of Cape Town was not giving residents their rights when about 1 200 toilets without walls and roofs were installed in Makhaza. The Council expected people to build their own enclosures. The same problem was discovered with 2 300 toilets in the ANC-run Rammulotsi in the Free State. The Human Rights Commission ordered the council to sort out the problem.