Mine holes pose danger to residents of Steve Biko Informal Settlement in Wesselton

The leaders of Steve Biko Informal Settlement take the Highvelder on a tour of the mining holes scattered around Wesselton. According to residents, people have died in such holes and illegal miners risk their lives mining the coal.

Various negative after-effects of mines are felt long after the mine is shut down.

Operations of the mines in the Wesselton area have been detrimental to the well-being and health of the residents of the township.

These have led to various issues affecting the township, which include but are not limited to, poor service delivery.

Sewage spillages are a norm for most living there with the stench unbearable to newcomers, but not to locals.

The township is expanding with more people migrating towards it, meaning more informal settlements are sprouting near what used to be mines.

Steve Biko Informal Settlement is one of such settlements formed close to a coal mine.

The settlement is partially surrounded by big holes filled with murky green water with residents alleging that some people have drowned and died in such.

In one of the service delivery marches by residents of the informal settlement, one demand was that the mine holes near the settlement be closed completely.

However, even Msukaligwa Municipality cannot fulfil such a demand as it is not their responsibility.

The municipality said it had warned people not to occupy such land.

In the 2009/2010 financial year, the municipality, working together with the Department of Human Settlement, relocated a community of eNkanini who occupied what is now known as Steve Biko.

The community was relocated to Extension 11, commonly referred to as Khayelihle.

The municipality reiterated its stance that the only reason they relocated the people there, was because the area was not suitable for human habitation.

The leaders of Steve Biko Informal Settlement take the Highvelder on a tour of the mining holes scattered around Wesselton. According to residents, people have died in such holes and illegal miners risk their lives mining the coal.

“As far as the abandoned mines and defaced land, the municipality has no jurisdiction of that,” spokesman of Msukaligwa, Mr Mandla Zwane, said.

A statement a local environmental care group agrees with.

According to the Khuthala Environmental Care Group (KECG), the closing of the mine holes in and around Wesselton is the responsibility of the mine and the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR).

“Whenever a mining company comes into the community to get minerals, the law states that it should have a rehabilitation plan and funds in place once the mining is complete,” KECG spokesman, Mr Zethu Hlatshwayo, said.

That is not the case with the old mines in Wesselton.

Gaping holes tarnish the landscape with illegal miners, zama zamas, trying their luck at the now-defunct mine.

With the municipality not in position to assist, the demand by the residents of Steve Biko will be hard to fulfil with the DMRs’ Mpumalanga Regional Office closed down since Monday, 3 September.

According to a DMR media statement, the closure follows feedback received from clients on the challenges they face at that office, relating mainly to backlogs in the issuing of licenses and allegations of corruption.

All administrative processes related to that office will be handled from the head office until further notice.

However, it is not all doom and gloom with KECG stating that there are concerned individuals in the Environmental Activism network, who are willing to assist in the closing down of the holes.

“It will take a lot of money, we are talking billions, and skilled specialists to rehabilitate the land in Wesselton,” Mr Hlatshwayo said.

Money that, according to KECG, the DMR does not have.

Even if the holes were to be closed, the Highvelder questioned if the land will be suitable for human occupation.

According to KECG, it will be suitable because the mine in Wesselton was an opencast mine.

Msukaligwa Municipality has warned the community to stay away and refrain from swimming in such holes.

The leaders of Steve Biko Informal Settlement take the Highvelder on a tour of the mining holes scattered around Wesselton. According to residents, people have died in such holes and illegal miners risk their lives mining the coal.

  AUTHOR
Amanda Mthembu
Journalist

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