Harmony guilty of wastewater pollution
Kabelo Khumalo Companies Editor
Harmony Gold, SA’s biggest gold producer by volume, has been found guilty of illegally discharging wastewater into the Voëlpan Dam in the Free State since 2019, potentially polluting the water.
An investigation by the department of water & sanitation, initiated after a tip-off about the transgression in November 2022, found the unlawful discharge into the Voëlpan had resulted in flooding because of rising water levels.
According to the department it also caused “damage to the Allanridge/Nyakallong communities and the R30 road”.
Allanridge is a gold mining town in the Lejweleputswa District Municipality and forms part of the Matjhabeng Local Municipality. The mining house, chaired by Patrice Motsepe, is said to have stopped the illegal practice only in June after the department circled in on it.
The company has admitted to the transgression and has presented the department with a plan to rehabilitate the dam.
The department ’ s spokesperson, Mavasa Wisane, said Harmony’s wholly owned subsidiary, Avgold, was instructed to appoint a suitably qualified environmental consultant to compile a rehabilitation plan for the polluted dam.
The rehabilitation plan is expected to include an assessment of the nature and extent of the illegal dumping of wastewater in the dam, the measures required to mitigate the damage and clear time frames for remediation.
In September 2022, the department in the Free State received a complaint that Avgold “was discharging wastewater into the Voëlpan Dam … Harmony acknowledged the discharge into the Voëlpan and presented a mitigation plan to [the department] outlining measures to be implemented to stop the discharge,” Wisane said.
Harmony acknowledged it had not informed the department or acquired authorisation, “which is a contravention of the National Water Act”.
The mine employs about 2,000 people, with production guidance for the 2023 financial year in the range of 61,700oz to 69,000oz.
It was acquired in May 2004, when Avgold became a wholly owned subsidiary of Harmony.
A Harmony spokesperson said it has since established and invested in two water treatment plants at the mine.
“All water is now being treated on site and there is no discharge going into Voëlpan. Harmony continues to engage with and assist the infrastructure team at the Matjhabeng municipality with various projects related to water in the region,” the spokesperson said.
“As far as the flooding of Voëlpan is concerned, it is important to note that during the past rainy season, the Free State received about 907mm of rainwater. The average rainfall for the Free State in this area is usually about 526mm. This equates to approximately 40% more rainfall than on average.”
The mining house added that the Matjhabeng mayor has
established a multistakeholder task team of employees from the municipality, the department and Harmony.
“As part of its regulatory obligations, Harmony wishes to confirm that it is committed to assisting in the prevention of further consequences faced by the community of Nyakallong. The relocation of the affected community members forms part of good corporate citizenry, as a company that cares for its mine communities,” it said.
“It is worth noting that Harmony is not leading the relocation of the affected community members; we are providing support to the department of human settlements. This relocation is a temporary solution to house those that have been affected while the government embarks on a more sustainable and long-term solution.”
DA MP George Michalakis, the constituency head of the Matjhabeng Local Municipality, said the main concern is not only the safety of the road users on the R30 but also the residents of Nyakallong, whose houses have already been flooded by the municipality’s dumping of sewage directly into the dam.
“On a previous visit to the site, allegations were also made that mining waste was dumped into the pan. Yet, defenceless residents are still left to fend for themselves,” Michalakis said.
“The DA, after laying charges at the SA Human Rights Commission, received a response from the commission that it is busy taking action in this matter and that it is ready to approach the Free State High Court. The DA welcomes this response.”
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