Coal Mining in Ermelo and Impacts on the Wesselton Community

Nov 11, 2009

Mission: Coal mining in Ermelo and impacts on the Wesselton community
Date: 11th November 2009
Requesting organisation: The Centre for Applied Legal Studies and the School of Law at WITS  University
Location: Wesselton area/community in Ermelo
Pilots: Noel McCullough and Richard Strever

Objective of the Flight:

To fly over Ermelo town and the coal mines operating in its immediate vicinity (within 2 – 3km radius of the town and township) to enable CALS to get aerial photographs of :
(i)degradation to the area caused by the coal mines
(ii) proximity of the mines to human settlements, the sewage plant for Ermelo and the water supply to Ermelo
(ii)convoy of large coal trucks using the main route through Ermelo town, and
(iv) potentially new coal mines starting up in very close vicinity to the area.

 

 

Report from the beneficiary

THREE CHEERS AND HURRAH for the passion and commitment shown by the personnel representing The Bateleurs during this mission. It is heartening to know that there are people out there, willing to give of their time to volunteer to help the environment.

The team of four got off to a bright and early start at Lanseria airport. The sky was clear and with a tailwind the flight was smooth and without any hiccups. It was great to be able to listen to all the ‘chatter’ of the airport on headsets provided by Noel which also gave us a chance to talk to each other during the flight. It was a bit surprising as to how busy Lanseria airport is at 0740hrs in the morning and our Cessna 182 – Oscar Charlie Whiskey did have to queue up to take off which was almost like being at Heathrow!!!

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The perspective from the air is quite astonishing and it was interesting to see the ‘top’ view of a lot of places which look a lot different from ground level. Given that this short term project is looking into the effect of coal mining on the Wesselton area/community in Ermelo, it was an added bonus to fly past the area covering the following power stations: Kendal, Kriel and Matla. All these seem to have been built some years ago near to the source of the coal which is used to run them. However one could also make out the remains of some old mines that were ostensibly made ‘safe’ but Prof. T. McCarthy’s report which has been widely referenced in a news article recently has shown that the negative after effects of mines are felt long after the mine is shut down. Water that has not been treated post usage in mining operations, laden with chemical impurities, seeps into the ground and contaminates the water table thus causing pollution and contamination in various rivers across the country (AMD – acid mine drainage).

Noel McCullough came across as a very experienced and patient pilot and this allowed for us to make several orbits over the affected community dwellings and the mines that surround this township. Richard Strever, a Bateleurs pilot who is also an aerial photographer, took the photographs for this mission. He took photographs of every aspect of the mines and their proximity to human settlement, including the closeness of the water supply and sewage treatment plant for Ermelo town to the mining activities. Though I have attached only 5 photographs to highlight each of the objectives of the flight, we have a compendium of visual evidence of the impact of Mashala, Imbabala and Golfview coal mines on Wesselton township.

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The project is a collaboration between CALS – the Centre for Applied Legal Studies and the School of Law at WITS  University. It is entitled Environmental Rights – the Poor & Mining – Coal mining & the Wesselton community. However Wesselton is not an isolated case study. This particular project came about by the fact that the community who are under ‘siege’ due to the impact of the coal mining so close to their dwellings, called upon the Lawyers for Human Rights to represent their grievances against the mine owners. LHR who had the initial interaction with the Crisis Committee at Wesselton then introduced CALS/SoL to the community for input and information. Research of the regulatory framework and the mechanisms that are supposed to control the processes around mining rights/permits/licences, makes it apparent that there may be breaches and violations in the operations of the mines in the Wesselton area. Besides being detrimental to the well-being and health of the  residents of the township, there is degradation of the environment in respect to housing and water which are socio economic rights to be enjoyed by all regardless of economic background. However these mines seem to be adding to the environmental degradation of Ermelo town (contaminated mine water dumps side by side with the town’s water supply stream that comes from the dam to the town; cracks in the sewage plant for the town – claimed to be caused by the blasting done by mines causing sewage to seep into the water system). Additionally the number of huge coal trucks thundering through town obviously are causing road deterioration besides having raised the rate of road accidents in the town. The business association in the town with 150 members is supporting the affected community in the township in voicing their grievances against the mine operations that don’t seem to have followed the rules laid down by the government.

CALS is very keen on pulling together entities from different walks of life who are and have been involved in activites to support the environment and specifically in regards to mining activities. With this in view a database is being formed of relevant entities/bodies/organisations involved in work in this area. The ultimate aim is to be a repository for relevant information related to mining activities that impact the environment and all those who work on various aspects on mitigating the negative impacts of the same. It is our goal to help the networking system so that more impactful work is done in helping the save the environment and those communities that are affected by adverse coal mining activities.

The report is due to be presented to our funding partners in December and a workshop to disseminate the report is planned for 21st January 2010.

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Bateleurs will be acknowledged as valuable partners of this project within the body of the report. In view of their sterling work and the manner in which it is done, CALS would like to make a nominal donation of R5000/- to support their work and show our appreciation for the same.

Please see photographic evidence to support all five of the objectives listed above. The aerial photography was important as it allowed us to photograph the mines which is not possible on the ground due to security personnel. The perspective also gives one an idea of the size of the mine and the encroaching nature of the operations. The trucks that service the mines appear to be forming dirt roads where none exist thus adding to the air pollution with dust and diesel fumes. They are also a hazard to the safety of the children who can no longer play within the vicinity of their homes. From the air it was also possible to see the beginnings of new mines further afield but the overall picture is one of Ermelo and its environs being surrounded and swallowed up by a giant ink blot of coal.

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