Welcome to my newest adventure and thanks for your interest. Let's jump right in....
An estimated 6,000 abandoned and ownerless mines pierce South African soil, most situated near Johannesburg and its metropolitan area's roughly 10 million residents. By law, the companies that work or worked these mines are required to set aside enough money in “mine closure trust funds” to mitigate (clean up during) and remediate (clean up after) once they finish active mining. If they walk away from the mine, the government can take this money and reduce any legacy impacts on the health of the environment and local populations. Somewhere along the line, this supposedly fail-safe system failed.
Lacking proper mitigation and regulation, these mines spew uranium and numerous other heavy metals into the air that residents of Pretoria, Johannesburg and Soweto breathe. In recent years, the Witwatersrand Basin surrounding much of this area flooded, and acid mine drainage now carries these toxins nearer to the major cities every year. Illegal mining communities spring up around abandoned shafts, and rival gangs of miners called Zama Zamas handpick gold ore to sell on a thriving black market.
The South African Department of Mineral Resources is given final permitting control over mines, ultimate say in when to open mine closure trust funds…and the mandate to grow the mining industry. The true effects of this conflict of interest are shrouded behind relatively weak access to information laws.
This page will be the home for updates on my project as well as links to other relevant news, a “photo of the week” segment and behind-the-scenes video. There is an RSS feed to which you can subscribe, located on the right side of the page. Alternatively, I will be posting periodic updates on Twitter and Periscope (@MarkOlalde for both). Feel free to share and comment or send me questions and ideas. Thanks for sticking with me so far, and I hope you will join me in telling this vitally important story!