Press release

JOHANNESBURG – Activists from mining-affected communities from across South Africa gathered this week at a workshop hosted by Lawyers for Human Rights and FIDH in Johannesburg to call on government and mining companies to ensure respect for human rights and the environment throughout the mine closure process.

The activists spent two days discussing the impacts of improper implementation of mine closure laws in their communities and ways to make certain that both state and private actors fulfill their obligations under domestic and international human rights law. Both legal regimes require that the rights of affected communities – including their rights to a healthy environment, water, housing, and health – are respected to ensure that they are able to grow and thrive even after the mine is closed.

“Government and mining houses have failed us so far”, said Tiny Dlamini of Snake Park, Soweto. “In our community, the gold mines shut down years ago but they were never rehabilitated. We have lost our children because they play on the unsecured mine dams and have been swallowed. People in our community are sick from the dust. So many children have been born with cerebral palsy. We have no electricity and no water. There was so much mineral wealth here and we are now left with nothing.”

This experience is widely shared by mining communities in post-closure scenarios today, many of which have borne the brunt of the negative impacts associated with the extractive industry during operations and have been left even worse off once the mines shut down. Activists attending the workshop reported experiencing health consequences due to lack of mine rehabilitation, termination of basic services, and evictions, in addition to the economic collapse of their immediate areas, as mines have closed.

Reports by the Council for Geosciences have identified over 6 000 abandoned and ownerless mines in South Africa, as well as many non-functional mines that have been placed under “care and maintenance”, with troubling implications for environmental rehabilitation and the right of surrounding communities to development. LHR and FIDH documented similar impacts on Human Rights and the Environment, in the report "Blyvooruitzicht Mine Village: the human toll of state and corporate abdication of responsibility in South Africa". This is at odds with the fundamental principles of both the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act and the National Environmental Management Act, which govern the industry, and identify a healthy environment and sustainable development as primary objectives.

“We call on mining companies contemplating closure today to fulfill their obligations under the law in order to protect our rights as communities that host these mining operations and allow them to reap profit throughout the life of those operations”, said Mashile Phalane, National Secretary of South Africa’s Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network. “We cannot be abandoned and left to struggle from the day that the doors of those mines close”.

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