SA’s nuclear reactor shut down – again

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

The paperwork, it seems, was not in order. From Moneyweb.

The shutdown is costing an estimated R3.5m a day in lost sales and resulting in unnecessary deaths due to the non-availability of life-saving medicine. Picture: Matthew Lloyd, Bloomberg

The shutdown is costing an estimated R3.5m a day in lost sales and resulting in unnecessary deaths due to the non-availability of life-saving medicine. Picture: Matthew Lloyd, Bloomberg

The Pretoria nuclear medicine production unit NTP Radioisotopes, part of the state-owned Nuclear Energy Company of SA (Necsa), has been out of operation since February.

This is the third time in two years that the Safari-1 reactor has been shut down. Not because there was radiation leakage or anything as frightening as that, but because the safety paperwork was not in order.

The shutdown is costing NTP an estimated R3.5 million a day in lost sales, and – according to one person close to the company – unnecessary deaths due to the non-availability of life-saving medicine. This has also wrecked the financials of one of the few state-owned companies that had consistently made profits and won clean audits.

The reason for the shutdown? Precisely the same one given for shutting down the reactor in 2017 and 2018. This time energy minister Jeff Radebe cannot blame the board members he suspended late last year.

Technical explanation

In response to questions from Moneyweb, NTP replied: “During a production cycle in February 2019, NTP’s internal monitoring systems detected instantaneous pressure variations as monitored by the sensors in the plant. While these happen within seconds and are corrected and balanced by the plant’s ventilation system, they still require further investigation in terms of NTP’s SOPs [standard operating procedures]. Further, it is important for NTP to make sure that issues such as these are corrected at the time they take place, and before large customer production runs are in progress.”

Last year Radebe suspended three members of the Necsa board on various charges, one of which was the undue delays in restarting the Safari-1 reactor at Pelindaba, which produces world-leading nuclear isotopes used in the treatment of cancer. The three board members were then chairman Kelvin Kemm, CEO Phumzile Tshelane and chief financial officer Pamela Bosman.

Read: Suspended nuclear company execs smell rat over adverse audit

City Press reported at the weekend that Tshelane was about to be fired after going through an internal disciplinary process. One of the reported grounds for his dismissal was the signing of a non-binding agreement with Russian nuclear company Rosatom to develop modular nuclear reactors, which the charge sheet claimed would conflict with an agreement already in pace with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (Ansto).

Ministerial interference

This is denied by the suspended board members. Says Kemm: “The agreement with the Russians was floated with the previous minister of energy, and with Radebe when he became energy minister, but he sat on this for months and never gave us an answer one way or the other. It is a non-binding agreement that in fact does not need ministerial approval, so here we have another case – one of many involving state-owned companies – of ministers interfering in the running of their boards. I hope President Ramaphosa bears this in mind as he prepares his new cabinet.”

Tshelane says he intends to challenge his dismissal because of the irregular process followed. “I subsequently received notice of my dismissal. I am convinced that the dismissal is unjust and premature and I will be appealing the Necsa ruling,” he says.

Read: Axed Necsa board blames resistance of ‘privatisation by stealth’ for dismissal

The suspended board members say they are fall guys for a governance crisis, orchestrated by the minister, whose real ambition is to sell the nuclear facility to a US company, Lantheus Medical Imaging (LMI). If true, this would put decades of hard-won nuclear secrets in foreign hands, and infuriate the trade union movement since this would amount to privatisation of a key national asset.

Some see NTP as a pawn in a nuclear geopolitical game involving the US and Russia.

Tina Eboka remains MD of NTP despite being suspended and replaced by Tshelane last year after the first reactor shutdown. Kemm says the minister ordered that she be reinstated, overriding a Necsa board decision.

“We pointed out to the minister that we had determined the faults which had occurred under the management of Eboka and that remedial action had been implemented and that we were due to restart in days,” says Kemm. “I also pointed out that CEO Tshelane was doing exactly what good governance required and that I supported his decisions. I said that it was not correct for the minister to instruct the CEO how to run the operations. The minister then told the media that I was defiant.”

NTP’s full response to questions from Moneyweb:

NTP’s isotope production facilities were shut down between November 2017 and February 2018, and again from May 2018 to November 2018.

Because of the extended period of disuse and other work done to return the plant to its original operating specifications (following some interim changes that were made during 2018), it is essential that operations are conducted within the strict limits, guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOPs) to ensure safe operations for personnel, the environment, and the product, as determined by various licences and registrations as well as NTP’s own SOPs.

All operating and technical specifications are closely monitored by NTP production managers and the Nuclear Facility Manager (NFM), who reports to the NTP board and communicates to the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) through various reports. The NTP NFM works closely with Necsa Licencing since Necsa is the licence holder of the NTP radiochemical facility.

During a production cycle in February 2019, NTP’s internal monitoring systems detected instantaneous pressure variations as monitored by the sensors in the plant. While these happen within seconds and are corrected and balanced by the plant’s ventilation system, they still require further investigation in terms of NTP’s SOPs. Further, it is important for NTP to make sure that issues such as these are corrected at the time they take place, and before large customer production runs are in progress. 

NTP adheres to world-class nuclear facility and isotope production standards, and always endeavours to manage and operate a safe plant for the safety of its personnel, the environment, and infrastructure, as well as product quality. This facility has been run safely since it was commissioned in the 1960s and has been compliant with all relevant safety regulations as they have been introduced over the years.

In accordance with the facility licence and our operating protocol, isotope production was temporarily halted in order to complete an internal investigation to identify the causes of these deviations, and also to remedy the identified issues. The investigation has been completed and remedial actions have been implemented, in line with our prescribed processes. In accordance with our SOPs, any technical or procedural updates have to go through rigorous change control protocols and safety assessments, as well as training all production personnel on any changes made. Once NTP has submitted its report on the investigation and corrective actions to the NNR, production will resume.  

Companies planning to go off the grid

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

Anglo Platinum, Sibanye-Stillwater, Makro and the City of Joburg are loosening their ties to Eskom. This article first appeared in Moneyweb.

The solar installation at Makro Carnival on the East Rand was created to generate 60-80% of the store’s energy needs during the day. Companies are however urged to take sound independent advice before plunging into self-generation solutions. Picture: Supplied

Forward-thinking businesses in SA are now starting to confront life without Eskom by putting plans in place to generate their own energy.

Anglo Platinum and Sibanye-Stillwater are two high profile companies at an advanced stage of planning for solar plants to generate their own electricity. The City of Joburg wants to cement a deal with Harith-owned Kelvin Power Station to purchase power as a way to prevent load shedding, which has done incalculable harm to businesses in the city.

Other companies are further advanced in their plans to reduce their dependence on Eskom power. In 2016 Makro erected solar panels on the roof of its Makro Carnival store on the East Rand to generate 60-80% of its energy needs during the day, equivalent to 30% of the store’s annual energy needs. Many smaller businesses have invested hundreds of thousands of rands in generators to serve as back-up power sources in the event of outages.

‘No plan’ from government

In his state of the city address last month, Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba said load shedding would be a reality in the coming years, and the national government had not come up with a plan to solve it. Though Eskom has attempted to block the city from sourcing electricity directly from Kelvin Power Station, Mashaba said he was looking at legal options as well as a direct approach to Kelvin over the prospect of securing a supply contract.

Kelvin has a 600 megawatt (MW) capacity, but is currently producing just 200MW, and even that will be shut down within the next two to three years. One of the options being explored is the installation of gas turbines from about 2023 onwards to ramp up output to the original design capacity of 600MW, pending the availability of a reliable gas supply. This is still just a fraction of Joburg’s total electricity consumption, but sufficient to prevent most of the outages experienced by businesses over the last six months.

The City of Joburg’s 2018 financial results show a 6% drop in electricity sales. Though some of this was due to outages, there is also evidence of businesses switching to alternative energy sources, according to Ratings Afrika’s latest Municipal Financial Sustainability Index (MFSI) for 2018.

Read: Municipal sector faces collapse – Ratings Afrika

Des Muller, MD of energy advisory group NuEnergy Developments, says there is a direct correlation between SA’s declining economic growth and the commencement of electricity blackouts starting in 2007.

“Stable and sufficient electricity supply is a precondition for any growing economy, and there is plenty evidence from around the world that those countries that can guarantee reliable power at a good price are those countries that grow the fastest,” he says. He warns that South Africa’s electricity challenges will remain in the foreseeable future and companies need to be prepared, but urges taking sound independent advice before plunging into self-generation solutions.

Aluminium businesses have already left SA

In 2012 Eskom paid energy-guzzling aluminium smelters to shut down furnaces so it could redirect power for use elsewhere in the economy. This has driven energy-intensive businesses to other countries in the Far East where power supply is stable and affordable.

As part of its medium- to long-term energy management strategy, Sibanye-Stillwater is pursuing the first 50MW phase of its solar photovoltaic (PV) project to be built on a site strategically placed between the Driefontein and Kloof mining complexes on the West Rand. “The project, originally envisioned in 2014, represents a partial solution to securing an alternative electricity supply, representing approximately 3% of our total electrical energy requirements in SA, and enables the power generated to be fed directly into the mine’s electrical reticulation while reducing our overall electricity expenditure and carbon footprint,” says the group’s head of investor relations, James Wellsted.

“We cannot disclose costs of the plant or the cost of the electricity through the PPA [power purchase agreement], however, we can state that solar PV power offers a cost-effective alternative to Eskom already.”

Sibanye-Stillwater ran a competitive tender process to appoint a developer to build, own and operate the project, and sell power back to the mining group through a PPA. This approach has a minimal upfront capital requirement for Sibanye-Stillwater and allows capital to be prioritised for core mining projects. The tender was successfully concluded in 2017, suggesting a significant forecasted return to Sibanye-Stillwater over the course of the agreement. Although several regulatory delays (including policy uncertainty and contracting issues relating to Eskom) were experienced in 2018, resolutions are expected to be reached in 2019. A decision to proceed with the PPA will then be made.

AngloPlat still to make final decision

Though Anglo Platinum has yet to make a final investment decision, it is exploring a 167 gigawatt hour (GWh) per annum solar PV plant at Mogalakwena, representing roughly 21% of its annual 777 GWh consumption.

Anglo Platinum says it wants to optimise the value of its overall portfolio, including improved energy management and planning for future energy sustainability in response to rising cost pressures in the mining sector. Efficiency measures have been implemented since 2013; however, this is not enough to counter the projected cost increases and the requirement for sustainable energy.

In 2017 the mining group started formalising its alternative energy strategy by transitioning to sustainable energy sources that reduce carbon emissions and provide predictable cost and energy efficiency.

Anglo Platinum is considering one of two options for the project development: the IPP option, or to self-build, own and operate.

These projects require a generation licence from the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) and exemption from the minister of energy.

The mining group says it is currently negotiating land sites, host-community participation and Mining Charter 2018 compliance.

Based on current progress, the solar generation plant should be operational by mid-2021.

The Bus King of Africa

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

The IDC is taking a R2bn bet on Pat Nodada of Busmark.

Busmark CEO Pat Nodada, the man behind smart factories, tough buses and 24-hour support even in outlying areas. Picture: Supplied

Busmark CEO Pat Nodada, the man behind smart factories, tough buses and 24-hour support even in outlying areas. Picture: Ciaran Ryan

This article first appeared in Moneyweb.

The man being called the Bus King of Africa is a 42-year-old chartered accountant.

Having conquered the South African bus market, Busmark CEO Pat Nodada is now partnering with the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) to build bus factories across Africa, starting with Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana.

It’s a bold move that will increase Busmark’s monthly output from 100 to 500 buses over the next five years. The IDC is taking a R2 billion bet that Nodada can pull this off by replicating the same formula that turned Busmark into the dominant bus maker in SA, with an estimated 40% of the local and 20% of the Zimbabwean market.

Nodada bought into the company a decade ago, retooled its Randfontein factory to supply city transporters such as Metrobus and MyCiti and promptly won a contract to supply the Gautrain fleet. That fleet is now being retired and replaced with a new one – again supplied by Busmark.

Big-brands busmaker

Busmark is a second-tier original equipment manufacturer (OEM) supplying buses to first tier OEMs such as Mercedes, Volvo, Scania and Real African Works. The engines and powertrains are imported, but everything else is made locally.

The Randfontein factory turns out 100 units a month, with the capacity to produce double this, and recently added battery-powered and hydrogen fuel cell buses to its production capability. This, says Nodada, is where the future lies.

“One of the big challenges we had to overcome was to reduce the weight of the batteries so that we could carry more passengers, and we managed to do this by making design improvements with the help of the CSIR and several local universities.”

The battery-powered bus – which is now in development and will be in action around Joburg as part of the Gautrain fleet pilot – can achieve a range of 150km before recharging. The hydrogen-powered bus is likewise attracting interest from city transport fleets under pressure to reduce their carbon footprints. Though the buses cost more than diesel ones, they are far cheaper to maintain (with just five moving parts as opposed to nearly 2 000 for diesel engines). 

Output up threefold in 10 years

Busmark’s output has shot up threefold since Nodada bought the company a decade ago, the result of a decision to diversify away from commuter to luxury city buses.

You won’t hear much about Busmark because its buses carry the OEM branding like Mercedes, Man and Volvo, but the buses boast a local content of 90% with the engines and powertrains coming from abroad. The company is 75% owned by the Nodada family, putting it beyond the prying eyes of the public, with the rest held by staff and management. 

This month 30 buses left the Randfontein factory destined for Kenya, part of an order for 90 units. The buses are designed in SA to withstand the most tortured roads, with rubber undercarriages and reinforced suspension. 

This is a prelude to the opening of a new bus assembly plant in Nairobi later this year in a joint venture with Mercedes Toyota Tsuscho that will turn out 20 units a month. A similar-sized factory will open up in Harare in July this year. A much larger factory with the capacity to churn out 250 units a month will open in Nigeria next year, followed by a fourth factory in Ghana by 2022. Smart factories are also in the works for Port Elizabeth and Durban.

Robotics and AI

Even more impressive is the plan to consolidate the scattered Randfontein plants into a single ‘smart’ factory within the next year, where robotics and artificial intelligence will churn out a new generation of SA-made buses conforming to the highest standards in the world.

Busmark is already compliant with SA, ISO and European quality standards, but Nodada is particularly proud of the fact that the company is regarded as a world leader in battery and hydrogen fuel-cell powered buses, but with a twist – these buses are built for some of the most testing roads in the world.

“We guarantee a 15-year life for any bus that comes out of our factories, regardless of where the buses are required to operate,” says Nodada.

“And we offer 24-hour support, which can be a challenge when you have a breakdown in rural Zimbabwe – but we can do it. We have had to modify our buses to withstand some of the worst roads in the world.”

What’s next once Busmark has taken the East and West African markets?

“That’s a discussion for another day,” says Nodada. “For now, our hands are pretty full with six new factories to open in the next three years. We are investing in the very latest technologies and our new factories will reflect this.

“The bus market in Africa is huge, and the push from bus operators is for more durable buses with lower operating costs. That is where we are focusing our energies: making it more profitable for bus operators across the continent. And we know how to do this.”

Afriforum fights to prevent banning of old SA flag

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

The Nelson Mandela Foundation and Afriforum are opposing each other in the Johannesburg Equality Court. From Groundup.

Photo of people in military clothing burning old SA flag

MK veterans burn an old South African flag in November 2017 following the #BlackMonday protestsby farmers against farm murders. Archive photo: Nomfundo Xolo

The Nelson Mandela Foundation is asking the Equality Court in Johannesburg to declare the display of the old South African flag hate speech and harassment under the Equality Act. The case is likely to set the boundaries between constitutionally-protected free speech, however offensive to some, and hate speech. Opposing the action is Afriforum, a group set up in 2006 to promote the protection of Afrikaner culture.

The background to the case is that on 30 October 2017 nationwide protests, in which Afriforum played a leading role, were held to protest over attacks on farmers. The protests were named #BlackMonday. It is disputed to what extent old South African flags were displayed at the protests.

In a press release following the protests, the Nelson Mandela Foundation decried the display of the old flag as indicative of support among some protesters for the old apartheid system.

Was the old flag displayed prominently?

On social media, photos of protesters carrying the old flag were circulated, but at least some of these photos were fake or for a different event. In an SABC2 debate the following week, Afriforum’s CEO Kallie Kriel dismissed reports of the old flag being displayed as fake news. The mayor of Midvaal in Gauteng, however, claimed he had seen them. Two Groundup reporters covered part of the Cape Town protest and did not witness conspicuous displays of the old flag.

Kriel said that Afriforum discourages its members from displaying the flag as it offends people, but that it should not be banned. Banning the old flag would be the same as banning communist symbols, which Kriel considered offensive, as communism, he asserts, was a crime against humanity.

The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, also known as the Equality Act, defines hate speech as showing a clear intention to be hurtful, incite harm and promote hatred. All three conditions must be present for hate speech to exist. This does not include genuine engagement in artistic creativity, academic and scientific inquiry and fair and accurate reporting in the public interest.

Farmers demonstrate against farm murders at Cape Town Stadium in the #BlackMonday protests in October 2017. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Mandela Foundation’s arguments

The Foundation’s CEO Sello Hatang affidavit says he was personally offended by the display as it recalled instances of racial abuse from his youth. “Gratuitous displays of the old flag, which serve no genuine journalistic, academic or artistic purpose in the public interest, are not about remembering but about forgetting our painful past. They do nothing to advance social justice, national unity and human dignity; quite the opposite. They cannot be protected by our Constitution, or defended in the name of tolerance, reconciliation and all of the values underlying the Constitution.”

On its website, the Foundation states that Germany has passed laws criminalising gratuitous displays of Nazi symbols, as they signify only oppression, hatred and the Holocaust. But the Foundation says it is is not pressing for criminalisation of gratuitous displays of apartheid symbols. “Instead we are using law to discourage their use.” The Foundation says that the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act of 2000 empowers Equality Courts to order remedies such as an apology, community service, or sensitivity training.

Johannesburg Pride, representing the LGBT community, has joined as a friend of the court, and argues that the apartheid regime oppressed people not only on grounds of race but sexual orientation.

Displaying the old flag “demeans, humiliates, and creates a hostile and intimidating environment toward members of the LGBT+ community who were also victims of apartheid and its legacy,” says Khuresha Ally, director of Johannesburg Pride.

Afriforum’s arguments

Afriforum says the Foundation’s court case, if successful, would be an attack on free speech. Deposing for Afriforum, deputy CEO Ernst Roets says the organisation has no particular love for the old flag and what it represents. “In the exceptionally rare instance that anyone participating in one of our events brings an old flag with them, we ask them to put it away.”

However, a wide-reaching ban on the flag, such as that sought by the Foundation, would be “an unconstitutional infringement of the right to freedom of expression.”

Freedom of speech is the pre-eminent freedom guaranteed under the Constitution, argues Roets: “Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of a functioning democratic state. It gives people the opportunity to be exposed to differing viewpoints to make informed and legitimate decisions about their political lives.

“If citizens are under the impression that the ideas they are exposed to have gone through a filtering process to remove all inappropriate forms of expression, then they are less likely to be critical of the material that they consume. Societies that allow for a broad selection of opinions create an environment that strengthens people’s analytical skills and trains them to question the views that are presented to them.”

Afriforum also argues that ideas that are suppressed can later result in violence.

Banning displays of the old flag is inappropriate as those displaying it may have different intentions, argues Roets, who presents evidence of Sharpeville residents burning the new South African flag to protest Human Rights Day commemorations being moved from Sharpeville to Soweto. “By way of analogy, it may be thought that anyone who burnt the new flag was motivated by hatred towards black South Africans and a desire to reinstitute apartheid,” says Roets.

He adds that displaying the old flag is not hate speech, nor does it amount to a call for action or an incitement to cause harm.

Roets then turns on ANC and SA Communist Party symbolism, recounting atrocities committed by its foot soldiers against South Africans. If the old SA flag is banned, a precedent is set for the banning of the ANC or SACP flags, or indeed the British Union, on the grounds that they may be distressful to victims of violence committed under these banners.

Roets dismisses the claim that the old flag represents harassment, which “must amount to a torment that is persistent and repetitive”. The best remedy for offensive speech is counter-dialogue.

The #BlackMonday protests were sparked by the murder of Western Cape farmer Joubert Conradie. Roets says the subsequent reporting on the protests ignored the farm murders and focused instead on the claims that some protesters carried old flags.

He argues that the Nelson Mandela Foundation is dismissive of farm murders. There were 357 incidents recorded in 2016/7 with 553 victims of whom 74 were murdered. “The notion that the #BlackMonday marches were only concerned with violence against white farmers is outrageous. All violence, regardless of the race of the victims or the perpetrators is unconscionable,” says Roets.

Former Sasol Coal miners claim more than R80 million for coal-related illnesses

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

Photo of South Gauteng High Court

Former miners at Sasol Coal are taking the company to the Johannesburg High Court to get compensation for the lung diseases they allege they contracted because of their work environment. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

This article first appeared in Groundup.

Twenty-two former underground miners are claiming more than R80 million in damages from Sasol Coal after they contracted serious lung and other diseases as a result of years of inhaling coal dust while working in underground coal mines.

They are arguing that Sasol Coal was negligent in failing to take adequate care to maintain healthy working conditions underground, in violation of several health and safety laws. Even if it was not negligent, the miners say the company bears the liability of their ill-health and loss of income for being unable to work.

The miners are represented by Richard Spoor, the attorney who last year reached a R5-billion settlement with seven gold mining companies for miners afflicted with silicosis contracted after years of breathing silica dust in underground mines.

In papers before the Johannesburg High Court, 12 of the miners say they were dismissed from employment because they contracted lung-related illnesses which made them unable to continue working. They are claiming for the loss of income, aggravated by their inability to find alternative work due to age, illness, low educational levels and lack of qualifications. The largest individual claim is R10.2 million, and the smallest is just under R1 million.

“The plaintiffs have suffered permanent physical impairment. Such impairment includes shortness of breath, generalised weakness, chronic chest discomfort, tiredness and disturbed sleep,” states the miners’ particulars of claim before the court.

One of the principle hazards to which they were exposed was noxious coal dust that cause lung diseases such as Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis (CWP) and Chronic Pulmonary Disease (COPD). These diseases can lead to respiratory symptoms such as a persistent cough and shortness of breath, resulting in a reduced ability to perform physical tasks. These can eventually develop into Progressive Massive Fibrosis (PMF), which reduces life expectancy. If coal miners with CWP or COPD are further exposed to coal dust, the severity of the disease is likely to increase.

The miners argue that Sasol Coal should have known of these health hazards, and through dust sampling and measurement should have been aware of the quantities of coal dust to which miners were exposed. Routine medical surveillance, if undertaken, would have established whether miners were at risk from the levels of dust in the underground mines.

Sasol denies liability

In its reply, Sasol argues that the matter has prescribed – meaning it is now too late to bring before the court. The Prescription Act requires such matters to be brought within three years of the alleged offence. Summons was served on the company in April 2015, more than three years after most of the miners had left Sasol’s employ.

Sasol’s court papers show several of the miners were dismissed for illegal strike action, and some had received medical compensation once their conditions had been diagnosed. One of the miners has since passed away. In other cases, workers’ medical conditions were deemed not severe enough for compensation. Some of the miners had previously worked at other mines, which may have aggravated their medical conditions. In other cases, Sasol denies the miners suffered from any lung disease, and no occupational diseases were diagnosed, so no benefits were paid out on their dismissal.

Sasol also questions some of the medical assumptions on which the miners base their claim, adding that CWP seldom causes significant disability. It also denies that COPD is developed by everyone who breathes coal dust.

The company argues that it provided proper mine ventilation to reduce dust particles to acceptable levels, and all workers were given adequate protective gear. To reduce the risk to miners’ health, remote-controlled mine machinery was employed, allowing operators to control the machines from a safe distance. It further argues that the miners have not been able to identify any act or omission that caused their injuries, and that the company took reasonable measures to address and reduce the risk of harmful exposure to dust on its mines.

Sasol also argues that in the event of dust hazards, the miners themselves would have been negligent in not noticing, avoiding and reporting the hazard (to which the miners reply that the harmful dust is invisible to the eye, and therefore almost impossible to detect). Should the court find Sasol Coal guilty of negligence, the corresponding negligence of the miners should reduce the amount of damages to be paid, says Sasol.

The Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA) sets out the health and safety obligations on mine operators, who are expected to provide a work environment that is safe and does not pose a risk to workers’ health. Mines are also required to periodically measure the health dangers and investigate every serious illness so that the causes can be isolated and mitigated. It is also claimed that the company failed to properly ventilate the mines.

The miners argue that Sasol violated mining legislation by failing to ensure its mines were safe and healthy.

Expert medical reports show several of the miners on pain medication for lung-related complaints and other diseases. The reports suggest dust masks were available only some of the time while working underground.

The Sasol mines named in the court papers are Bosjesspruit, Brandspruit, Middelbult, Syferfontein, Twistdraai and Sigma.

The case is about to enter the pre-trial stage where the opposing parties will narrow down the areas of dispute. If settlement is not reached before then, the matter will likely go on trial in 2020.

Protests grow over defamation suits against environmentalists

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

Lawsuits can keep activists out of commission by forcing them to focus on the court case, but often backfire by drawing even more attention to an issue – as Australian mining company MRC is discovering. Picture: Shutterstock

Lawsuits can keep activists out of commission by forcing them to focus on the court case, but often backfire by drawing even more attention to an issue – as Australian mining company MRC is discovering. Picture: Shutterstock

This article first appeared in Moneyweb.

Environmental activists are headed to court next month in a bitter defamation suit brought last year by Australian mining company MRC, which is planning to mine titanium sands at Xolobeni on the Wild Coast.

The case involving three of the six environmentalists who are being sued for defamation by MRC and its CEO Mark Caruso is a curtain raiser to the main hearing and is intended to discover documents the environmentalists say they need to properly defend themselves.

Other environmental and civil groups are rallying around the environmentalists, claiming the court actions are nothing but ‘Slapp’ suits (Strategic Litigations Against Public Participation) intended to silence legitimate criticism of the company and its environmental practices.

“Around the world, Slapp suits are used by companies, particularly in the mining and energy sectors, to intimidate environmental defenders, in an effort to suppress debate about the negative impacts of their operations on local communities and in relation to environmental degradation,” says Leanne Govindsamy, head of corporate accountability and transparency at the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER). Two of CER’s attorneys have been sued by MRC and Caruso for defamation over criticisms made of MRC’s environmental practices.

Read: Defamation suits fly over mining controversies

Earlier this month CER and several other civil bodies – including groundWork, Earthjustice and Human Rights Watch – released a report highlighting threats against activists in the form of harassment, intimidation, violence and the use of Slapp suits.

“Judging from the response to the report, including the response to the report’s findings around the Slapp suits brought by MRC, the company is likely to find itself facing a wall of opposition from other civil society groups which resist the notion of censorship over issues that are in the public interest,” says Govindsamy.

Activists harassed

The Human Rights Defenders report says activists are frequently harassed by companies seeking court orders to prevent protests, filing vexatious lawsuits and seeking financial penalties. Slapp suits are a growing trend around the world, prompting calls for anti-Slapp legislation such as exists in some US states.

MCR does not enter this contest with a clean slate. Its subsidiary Mineral Sands Resources was fined R1.25 million for environmental transgressions at its Tormin operations on the west coast, a fine many consider woefully inadequate relative to the damage caused.

The chances of getting rich off defamation suits in SA are not good, reckons human rights lawyer Advocate Mark Oppenheimer. The top award for defamation in SA was R50 000 plus costs to former head of the Independent Police Investigation Directorate Robert McBride, who successfully sued The Citizen in 2011 over its claims that he was an unrepentant murderer for the Magoo Bar bombings in Durban in the 1980s. This award was the result of several articles in The Citizen that the Constitutional Court found to be malicious and defamatory.

One of those being sued by MRC and Caruso is environmental lawyer Cormac Cullinan. Both Cullinan and Caruso were on a Cape Talk radio show discussing the Xolobeni mining story, when Cullinan suggested that pro-mining representatives of the local community had been bought off, and that forged names were used in support of the pro-mining lobby.

Diversionary tactic 

“Caruso had the opportunity to defend his position on the radio show, but chose instead to bring a lawsuit,” says Cullinan. “One of the effects of these cases is to keep you out of commission while you spend time defending a court case. My statements were fair comment and I don’t think MRC’s case has any merit.”

What seems to have irked environmentalists in relation to MRC is the visit last week by mining minister Gwede Mantashe to its Tormin operations in the Western Cape. In a letter to the minister, CER executive director Melissa Fourie wrote: “Attempts to silence criticism and debate on matters of public interest are the most egregious forms of attack on constitutional rights and undermine not only the rights of those who are sued but undermines constitutional freedoms, which are central to democracy and civil society’s ability to advance transparency and accountability.”

One of the defendants in a separate case brought by MRC is social worker John GI Clarke, who denies defaming the company, but also appears to have doubled down on his criticism of MRC and Caruso. He faces 19 claims totalling more than R5.5 million, a figure that seems to keep growing each time he opens his mouth. But Clarke shows no signs of going anywhere quietly.

He has been highly critical of the way MRC and Caruso went about trying to secure mining rights in Xolobeni, apparently against the wishes of many people living in the area.

“All I have simply done is what social workers are obliged to do, in terms of our professional code of practice,” says Clarke.

Doubling down

“As part of the discovery process I have given Caruso’s lawyers enough evidence, without disclosing my confidantes of course, to cause him even more anxiety. That perhaps explains why [they are] now doubling down on me by increasing the quantum of damages Caruso is claiming. He started with seven claims totalling R2.25 million, then doubled that to 18 claims totalling R5 million and then again, adding another 10% on that by suing me for statements I made in another recent article,” Clarke told Moneyweb.

In Caruso’s affidavit before the Cape High Court, he lists the 19 instances of alleged defamation by Clarke. One of them is an interview Clarke gave to the Daily Maverick in which he is claimed to implicate MRC in the murder of Pondoland community activist Sikhosiphi ‘Bazooka’ Rhadebe in 2016 – a claim which, it must be said, MRC has always denied and Clarke says he never made.

The offending sentence could with a stretch be interpreted this way, but is so grammatically mangled as to make hardly any sense at all.

Caruso supplies the passage that he says defamed him:

“‘The key issue is whether human rights trump mining rights,’ said John Clarke, a social worker and Daily Maverick contributor, who has been working closely with the community. The area, which was the site of the Pondoland revolt, is fiercely resistant to being told from the outside what to do,” said Clarke, and after MRC continues to try for a mining licence the killing of Rhadebe he said it shows it’s trying to increase the pressure on those in its way.”

For this sentence, MRC and Caruso are claiming R500 000 from Clarke. In reply, Clarke says the offending sentence is not a direct quote and makes no logical or grammatical sense. It must be read in the broader context of growing hostility between pro and anti-mining activists in the area.

Rhadebe’s killing was a tragedy that gutted the local community, especially as the killers were never found.

Mining licence ‘supported’ by the dead?

Clarke also claimed that some of the local residents’ signatures presented by MRC in support of its mining licence showing “prior, free and informed consent” were forged and included many who had died. Clarke added that Caruso had attempted to hide this fact. Caruso’s affidavit says this statement wrongly suggests criminality on his part. For this statement by Clarke, Caruso is claiming another R500 000. There are 17 other claims against Clarke alone.

MRC and Caruso are also claiming R1 million from community activist Mzamo Dlamini, R1 million from Cullinan and R250 000 each from CER lawyers Christine Redell and Tracey Davies, and community activist Davine Cloete. The CER lawyers were sued for comments they made during a presentation at the University of Cape Town claiming poor environmental practices by the company’s Tormin project. All are defending the claims.

Are Slapp suits effective in silencing criticism? Govindsamy says they are intended to promote self-censorship and place a huge financial burden on those forced to defend them. “However, civil society organisations in South Africa are committed to defending the right to freedom of expression, particularly around issues which are in the public interest and we are committed to ensuring that activists are not silenced through the use of Slapp suits, especially bearing in mind the integral role which freedom of expression has played in our nascent democracy.”

The ‘Streisand effect’

Slapp suits very often backfire on the plaintiffs by rallying support for the defendants. This is known as the ‘Streisand effect’, where attempts to silence free speech end up drawing even more attention to the issue. It is named after US performer Barbara Streisand’s attempts to have a picture of her house removed from a public collection of California coastal images. Her attempt to avoid public scrutiny had the opposite effect once it became known.

There is a push for anti-Slapp legislation in several US states, making it easier for judges to dismiss cases deemed to be attempts to silence criticism. The most frequent targets for these suits are civil society and environmental groups, and the press. 

Former finance minister Trevor Manuel has reportedly filed a suit against the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) for claiming the appointment of Sars Commissioner Edward Kieswetter was irregular. Manuel was part of the recruitment selection panel, and the EFF claimed he was related to Kieswetter and that the two had close business ties. Manuel demanded a retraction, calling the claims racist and libellous. The EFF appears to be sticking to its guns, saying it will defend any action brought by Manuel.

Many worthy stories are buried without having to go this far. PR agencies are sometimes able to do it with charm offensives. Sometimes all it takes is a phone call. In the opening section of Gangster State, author Pieter-Louis Myburgh recalls receiving a phone call from Ace Magashule, ANC secretary-general and the subject of the book, trying to fish for information on what Myburgh was planning to write about. That didn’t stop Myburgh, but it did stop a Free State reporter who received a similar call, says Myburgh.

Municipal sector in SA faces collapse

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

Of the seven metros analysed, Cape Town came out tops for financial sustainability. Picture: Jose Cendon/Bloomberg

Of the seven metros analysed, Cape Town came out tops for financial sustainability. Picture: Jose Cendon/Bloomberg

This article first appeared in Moneyweb.

SA’s municipal sector faces collapse as financial governance continues to deteriorate, says Ratings Afrika’s latest Municipal Financial Sustainability Index (MFSI) for 2018.

Unless corrective action is taken, a crisis is inevitable. And when service delivery is poor, violence is never far behind. Political leaders need to look at the interests of residents and businesses rather than their own, says the agency. They need to root out corruption, appoint managers with the right skills and experience, and apply sound budgetary practices and strict financial discipline.

Read: Amalgamation no silver bullet for struggling municipalities

Very little of this is in evidence in the latest MFSI. “The current political leadership in control of the majority of municipalities has demonstrated over the last five years and more to not being capable of sound governance,” says Ratings Afrika. “This is the main cause of the deteriorating financial sustainability of the municipal sector in SA.”

Of the seven metros analysed by Ratings Afrika, Cape Town came out tops for financial sustainability. Joburg came last.

Both are DA-run, so gloating rights ahead of the national elections are severely curtailed.

Tshwane, too, looks like it needs a financial reboot with a working capital deficit of R3.2 billion. It’s also DA-run, but is starting to show signs of improvement, reporting a R336 million operating surplus in 2018.

Joburg reported a deficit of R250 million in 2018 and has suffered a deterioration in its MFSI score from 43 to 29 over the last five years.

Ratings Afrika analyst Leon Claassen says it is difficult to draw political inferences from these scores, since many municipalities and metros are grappling with long-standing legacy and debt issues. However, it is well known that the governing party in each jurisdiction stacks management with political appointees.

Drop in electricity sales for Joburg

An analysis of Joburg’s revenue shows electricity sales dropping nearly R900 million to R13.5 billion – a decline of roughly 6%. Part of this would have been the result of electricity outages, but some of this is also certainly due to users switching to alternative energy sources. Non-payment is adversely affecting the working capital position of Johannesburg, which was R3 billion negative (shortfall) as at June 2018. Eskom’s annual report for the last year shows an arrears bill of nearly R17 billion in Soweto alone – this amount is not included in Johannesburg’s financial results.

Presenting the latest MFSI for 2018 on Tuesday, Claassen points out that only 23 of the top 100 municipalities in SA reported operating profits last year. The remaining 77 made combined operating losses of R13.3 billion and recorded a combined working capital shortfall of R23 billion. This means they have run out of cash and have stopped or delayed paying creditors.

Ratings Afrika’s MFSI uses a model that scores municipalities out of 100 based on operating performance, liabilities management, budget practices and liquidity.

Overall, the picture for municipalities is bleak and getting worse. The national average slipped below 40 to 38 for the first time since the index was calculated in 2012. Of the top 100 municipalities, 56 scored less than 35. Worst of the lot was Modimolle, formerly Nylstroom in Limpopo, which scored just 2 out of 100. It has virtually ceased to function and service delivery is almost non-existent – a recipe for protest and violence.

Redemption

Best of the lot is Swartland in the Western Cape with a score of 86. And herein lies a tale of redemption. When the index was first published in 2012, Swartland scored in the low 50s. After huffing and puffing about the low score, municipal managers asked what they should do to improve performance. “It came down to making basic financial corrections, such as reining in expenses, no new hires, improving revenue collection and implementing proper budgeting,” says Claassen.

Another municipality on the mend is Midvaal in Gauteng, whose score has improved from 53 to 72 over the last five years. It has consistently won clean audits from the Auditor General. In 2013 the ANC attempted to merge the DA-run Midvaal with the disastrous ANC-run Emfuleni in what was seen as a cynical attempt to capture the province’s best-run municipality. The attempted merger was defeated in the North Gauteng High Court in 2015.

Moving in the opposite direction is Msunduzi in KwaZulu-Natal, which was once rated among the best-managed municipalities in the country. All that has gone as new management took over, squandered the reserves, and let revenue and arrears collections go to the dogs.

The political question

How much does politics play in the management of municipalities?

Ratings Afrika director Charl Kocks relates the story of one metro that soft-peddled on arrears collections so as not to lose votes ahead of an election. The obvious solution seems to be to get professional managers in to run the municipalities, rather than using them as playthings for dispensing political favours.

The main revenue source for metros and municipalities is electricity sales, followed by water charges, refuse and sewage charges, and property tax.

“Given that the financial sustainability of key local municipalities in SA is weak, our expectation is that the quality of service delivery is likely to deteriorate over the short to medium term,” says Ratings Afrika. “Weak service delivery impacts quality of living as well as the economic growth and development that are desperately needed to reduce unemployment in the country.”

What differentiates the high-scoring municipalities from the weak are skills, experience, financial discipline and quality of management backed by sound governance.

Equality court tosses out discrimination case against FNB

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

The Cape Equality Court has dismissed a claim of racial discrimination against FNB. Photographer: Nadine Hutton/Bloomberg

The Cape Equality Court has dismissed a claim of racial discrimination against FNB. Photographer: Nadine Hutton/Bloomberg

This article first appeared in Moneyweb.

The Cape Equality Court last week tossed out a claim of racial discrimination against FNB brought by usury expert Emerald van Zyl on behalf of several black customers of the former Saambou Bank, which was taken over by FNB in the 1990s.

The claim of discrimination was based on a Saambou customer database leaked to Van Zyl in 2010. His affidavit before the court suggested a pattern of discrimination against black customers who he said were being charged up to 30% more than white customers for their mortgage loans. There was no reference to the race of customers in the database, but Van Zyl argues this was coded by the use of “low-cost housing” (black) and “high-cost housing” (predominantly white) clients.

Research by retired sociology professor Cornie Groenewald concluded that 99% of the low-cost housing Saambou clients reflected in the database were black.

In a statement issued last week, FNB said it welcomed the Equality Court’s dismissal of the race discrimination case. “The Court dismissed the matter in its entirety, including the complainant’s application to amend their declarations.”

Read: Claims of discrimination against black FNB customers heads to court

Commented chief executive of FNB Home Finance, Lee Mhlongo: “We’ve always maintained that the callous use of racial allegations is irresponsible and unacceptable. There has never been any evidence to suggest that race played any role in Saambou’s determination of interest rates for its customers.”

Judge Fortuin described the evidence as “vague and embarrassing” and appeared to take exception to the wide media coverage given to the case. The Equality Court was established in 2003, and the judge said the court did not have jurisdiction to consider cases that occurred prior to this date.

But Van Zyl says the merits of the case have yet to be heard, and he will now approach the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to deliberate on the case. “We have a few options available to us. One of them is to appeal the judgment. Another is to approach the SA Human Rights Commission or the Constitutional Court. We will consider our options over the next few days. We have already presented evidence to the Human Rights Commission in terms of one FNB customer.”

Indirect discrimination

The SAHRC has approached Stellenbosch University’s Law Clinic for legal assistance on the case alleging discrimination. Says the Law Clinic’s Stephan van der Merwe: “It is correct that we were consulted by the SAHRC who requested our assistance on the matter. We confirmed that we are willing to co-operate if there is sufficient merit. From what we have been informed, we are concerned that there may be reason to suspect indirect discrimination in the matter.”

Indirect discrimination is where there is a practice, policy or rule that applies to everyone in the same way, but has a worse effect on some. For example, if people living in a particular area are charged high interest rates and are also of a particular race, that could be considered indirect discrimination.

FNB says cases related to these racism allegations have been dismissed by the courts on four separate occasions since 2013, including the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Van Zyl says he has assisted 1 570 clients from having their houses sold in execution by the banks. Of these, 179 were black Saambou clients. Most of these cases were heard in the high courts, where Van Zyl says he was able to show that the banks had discriminated against clients by not reducing interest rates for low-cost housing clients when prime lending rates were dropped for other customers.

FNB says the allegations were first dismissed in 2013 by the North Gauteng High Court. The court found that, after all the evidence had been led and all witnesses cross-examined, the claims that Saambou charged black people higher interest rates than white people were “completely unfounded”. Van Zyl replied that in this case racism was not pleaded. The claimants in this case, who happened to be black, argued that the interest rate they were charged was not fair and reasonable and exceeded the amounts permitted by law.

“As a responsible corporate citizen, FNB has been and will always remain committed to ensuring that customers are treated fairly,” says Mhlongo.

Sibanye-Stillwater’s long march to the courts

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman has had to fight a fair share of battles on behalf of the company recently. Picture: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman has had to fight a fair share of battles on behalf of the company recently. Picture: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

This article first appeared in Moneyweb.

The modern era of deal-making requires an army of lawyers.

It’s been more than a year since Sibanye-Stillwater announced its proposed R5.17 billion all-share buyout of Lonmin.

Since then the company has been in and out of court, fighting cases on multiple fronts, not all of them related to the Lonmin deal. It’s also had to deal with a particularly nasty pay strike by 15 000 workers affiliated with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) that has resulted in the deaths of nine workers. The strike has dragged on for five months. Other unions accepted the pay offer from management and returned to work. Amcu held out for a better deal, launching one of the ugliest strikes in years.

This week the SA Human Rights Commission sent a fact-finding mission to the mines, and met with union representatives and police. Last month the Labour Court ruled that the wage agreement reached between the company and three other trade unions could be extended to Amcu, and will approach the Labour Court again within the next few days to force Amcu members back to work.

Again at war

Two weeks ago Sibanye-Stillwater was again at war with Amcu – this time in front of the Competition Appeal Court, defending an appeal brought by the union to set aside a 2018 decision by the Competition Commission greenlighting the merger with Lonmin.

Amcu claimed the merger would result in massive job losses, citing a figure of 13 000 merger-related retrenchments, which far exceeds the roughly 3 200 projected by the Competition Tribunal last year. The union asked the court to extend the six-month moratorium on retrenchments (a condition of the merger imposed by the commission) to 24 months. The result of this appeal is still being awaited.

James Wellsted, senior vice-president of investor relations at Sibanye-Stillwater, says should the Competition Appeal Court rule in the company’s favour, the Lonmin merger should be wrapped up within the first half of this year.

“The Amcu strike at our gold operations is obviously not directly related to the Lonmin merger, although some argue that there is a link between the strike and Amcu’s opposition to the Lonmin transaction.”

Lonmin has also had to fight in court

Lonmin has also had its share of court action. In October last year, it successfully defended an attempt by the Mining Forum of South Africa to have its mining licences suspended on the grounds that it had ducked its Social and Labour Plan (SLP) obligations, which are a precondition of every mining licence.

The forum is a non-profit organisation set up to ensure that mining companies adhere to the conditions of their licences, and was appointed by the Bapo Ba Mogale Traditional Council to represent its interests and ensure compliance with the mines’ SLP commitments. Lonmin argued that the proper forum for complaints of this nature is judicial review in terms of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act (Paja). The forum also asked the North West High Court to interdict Lonmin from transferring or disposing its shares to Sibanye-Stillwater on the grounds that this was an attempt to shirk its SLP obligations, and there was a pre-existing agreement to sell two of its shafts to the local community.

Justice Leeuw ruled against the forum, and dismissed its case with costs, saying it had followed wrong procedure in approaching the high court when it should have taken the matter under judicial review in terms of Paja.

Muddying the waters

All of this muddies what has been a determined bid by Sibanye-Stillwater to sweeten its portfolio of platinum group metal assets. Its platinum assets share boundaries with Lonmin, so it makes sense to consolidate operations and reduce capital outlay. One of the primary targets of the deal is Lonmin’s metallurgical processing complex, including smelting, base and precious metals refining facilities.

Lonmin’s processing facilities will allow Sibanye-Stillwater to smelt and refine ore from its existing Rustenburg operations, thereby improving the economics of those operations. Lonmin’s balance sheet is in tatters after several bad years. The deal offers its shareholders a dignified exit, as they will now hold Sibanye-Stillwater stock.

But before that happens, there are few more court hurdles to be cleared.


Disease haunts Mpumalanga coal town

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

Photo of woman in front of house with broken windows

Kate Kobe, who lives in the Mpumalanga town of Phola, wants to know who will pay for the damage to her home. She and other residents say cracks and broken windows are caused by blasting at nearby coal mines. Photo: Ciaran Ryan .
This article first appeared in Groundup.

Last week Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe visited Phola, in Mpumalanga, to hear complaints that blasting from nearby coal mines was causing cracks in houses and broken windows. The visit concluded with an undertaking to determine whether the cracks were caused by blasting from mines already in operation or from other activities. The minister may be uncertain of the cause, but the residents of Phola are not.

“The blasting happens every day and you can feel the houses shaking,” says Goodwell Matala, who once worked for the coal mines but lost his job several years ago. He points to windows at the front of his house which he says were broken by the ferocious shudder of coal mine blasts. The pattern is repeated up and down the street where Matala lives. Houses have shed their plaster coatings and internal cracks are clearly visible. In one house, the blast shock was so severe it brought down the ceiling, according to residents.

This is coal country, and most of those lucky enough to have jobs work either for the nearby coal mines or the Kendal Power Station.

Many of the residents complain that they are breathing dust stirred up by the blasting and ash dumps from Eskom power stations, creating respiratory conditions for those living nearby.

Margaret Nkambule, a Phola resident, has been diagnosed with TB, and her three-year-old son Sbonokuhle has damaged hearing which she says is a result of the blasting. “The blasting sometimes happens when we are sleeping and dust falls down from the ceiling and goes into our lungs,” says Margaret’s husband, Shorty.

Kate Kobe is a pensioner and she wanted a chance to speak to Mantashe at the Phola Community Hall about the damage caused to her modest home by the blasting. Like Goodwell Matala, she has stories of her own: blasting has disfigured her home and broken several windows. “Who’s going to pay for this?” she wants to know.

Some community members seemed irritated that Mantashe was in town for the day. “We only ever see these politicians when there is an election,” says Tebugo Mashianhe, pointing to garbage lying on the street (the air is rancid from the rot). He points to a street light on a towering pole nearby. “The street lights started working in January after being broken for three years. It’s because there is an election.”

Anglo American and South32 are the mining houses most residents blame for the blasting, but the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) says their mines have not yet started blasting.

South32 spokesperson Jenny White says the group’s nearby Klipspruit coal extension project was one of three sites visited by Mantashe last week. “The Klipspruit Extension is under construction and not yet operational and no blasting activity has taken place at the site.”

White says an independent environmental control officer reporting to the DMR confirmed that construction activities at the Klipspruit Extension project are carried out in line with approvals.

Anglo American’s Moeketsi Mofokeng said the Zibulo colliery near Ogies adheres to the “highest environmental management standards”. The company has a “community complaints and grievance procedure”. Measurements of dust from the Anglo colliery show that it is not the source of the dust fallout in the area, Mofokeng said. There is blasting from the colliery from time to time but, says Mofokeng, these activities are regulated and within legal requirements. (See Anglo’s full response below.)

“The two mines about which complaints were raised have not commenced operating, and no blasting has occurred yet,” said the DMR in a statement after the minister’s visit. “Furthermore, the Department will be engaging with the mines to strengthen measures in place for the minimisation of dust from mining activities, where mining is already taking place.”

That doesn’t satisfy the residents of Phola, who are living in what may be one of the unhealthiest parts of the country. The local clinic is crowded with people complaining of breathing problems. And blasting is clearly taking place at mines in the area.

Health problems

Many studies have analysed the health hazards for people working on and living close to coal mines.

A 2012 study on Highveld air quality reported that the biggest contributors to the ambient air pollution were Eskom’s coal-fired power generation and mine haulage. An air quality management plan was put in place more than a decade ago to clean up air quality, but little appears to have changed, according to Broken Promises, a 2017 report by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER).

Timothy Lloyd of the CER says people battling TB and other debilitating illnesses from having worked in coal mines are often left with medical bills to pay, as well as transport costs to a distant hospital. They have to deal with the constant fallout from a nearby ash dump aggravating their conditions.

In 2016, UK-based air quality and health expert Dr Mike Holland assessed the health impacts and associated economic costs of current emissions of just one type of pollutant from Eskom’s coal-fired power stations. His report, titled Health impacts of coal fired power plants in South Africa, estimates that the following impacts are attributable to these emissions:

  • 2,239 deaths per year: 157 from lung cancer; 1,110 from ischaemic heart disease, 73 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 719 from strokes, and 180 from lower respiratory infection;
  • 2,781 cases of chronic bronchitis per year in adults;
  • 9,533 cases of bronchitis per year in children aged 6 to 12;
  • 2,379 hospital admissions per year;
  • 3,972,902 days of restricted activity per year;
  • 94,680 days of asthma symptoms per year in children aged 5 to 19;
  • 996,628 lost working days per year; and
  • the total costs associated with these impacts exceed US$2 billion (approximately R28 billion) a year.

These numbers exclude the significant impacts from air pollution from mining (such as coal dust), transport of coal, and contamination of water (as well as the impacts from other pollutants emitted by Eskom stations).

Human rights lawyer Richard Spoor, who successfully sued Gencor and Swiss multinational Eternit on behalf of miners suffering diseases as a result of exposure to asbestos, has more recently taken up the cause of coal miners. He has launched a court case against a coal company claiming damages on behalf of 22 underground coal miners suffering various work-related ailments.

“There is a perception that sickness among coal miners is less severe than it is among gold miners, but our research shows the opposite,” says Spoor. “Based on the health tests we have done, nearly one in three coal miners is afflicted with some kind of illness related to their work. There’s a particularly high incidence of lung complaints among coal miners.”

Spoor adds that blasting in the vicinity of mines is also a major problem whose costs are under-reported.

Dr Jim te Water Naudé, a public health specialist based in Cape Town, confirms an abnormally high incidence of lung-related illnesses among more than 300 ex-coal miners tested on behalf of Spoor. Highveld coal mining areas are well known for high levels of air pollution through a combination of coal mining, dust from Eskom power station ash dumps and dust thrown up by haulage trucks, to name a few. What is less certain is which source is the main culprit.

Anglo American’s full response

Our Zibulo colliery near Ogies – like all other Anglo American operations – adheres to the highest environmental management standards. We have established practices that set out how we interact with our communities and stakeholders. We aim to deliver on our commitment to ongoing and honest communication with our stakeholders.

For example, Zibulo Colliery has a Community complaints and grievance procedure in place. All community complaints are investigated and acted on promptly. These are entered into the register that is available at the access gate to the opencast operation. We have other platforms like community forums have been set up to encourage ongoing communication.

Zibulo Colliery has measures in place to manage other possible impacts like dust. Although all dust measuring data shows that Zibulo is not the source of the dust fall out, we have agreed to jointly with other mining companies to initiate a study into understanding not only the source of this dust but how best to alleviate the dust impact.

We also use dust suppression on all mine roads. This involves the application of a chemical suppressant agent and water. The mine has a dedicated air quality management plan in place.

The Zibulo opencast operation undertakes blasting activities from time to time. These activities, together with the mining plan, are regulated and approved by the Department of Mineral Resources and are within the legal requirements prescribed in the Mine Health and Safety Act.