Tunatazama - Community Monitors

Investigation Notes : Sasolburg Wetlands Destruction and Air Pollution

It has been more than two months since we, the Vaal Community monitors, developed our research in Sasolburg. We investigated the impacts of Sasol coal operations situated next to communities of Belina, Middville, Lusaka and Zamdela. We spent time observing the wetland. We tested the water, we talked to the young man who looked after cattle and residents who live around the wetlands

Our team talked with local residents about air and dust pollution and how it affected their health. We present our diary notes here as an update on our investigation.

The Wetlands : Thandi Ngcanga Diary Notes

I started my interviews with Mr. Molete who started living at Belina since his early twenties up until now. He is in his fifties.This is what he said

“I am living here with my family of four kids, of which two of them also have their own kids, and my wife” said Mr. Molete.“The wetland has been the issue since I got here, people were complaining about the horrible smell which comes out at any time of the day. When it rains the smell becomes more extreme even so when the temperature is hot. Pepole want it to be closed. We have kids that like playing around and sometimes we find them in the same dirty toxic wetland playing and they develop skin rash by getting in this water.”

Mr Molete talked about the food “The food that we eat sometimes is not edible because of the smell. Some of its related illnesses are diarrhoea and skin rash. The water that we drink is not healthy and we don’t know what to do or who to report to so that we may get help.The Sigma coal mine is controlling everything even the government” says the angry Mr. Molete.

I next talked to a “herd boy”, a young man named Mhlongo. He said `”Even the cattle get sick some,are dying after drinking water from this wetland. It’s painful to see my cattle dying and I cannot do anything about my loss. Even my boss is working for this Sigma company so he also does not want this wetland but he is scared to lose his job. This wetland must be rehabilitated and we don’t know whether this is a municipal problem or the Sigma mine’s problem.We just want to report to a relevant place”.

On the second visit we took water samples for testing. The tap water from the local area was the same as that from the wetland in ph readings.But the wetland was also tested on Total Dissolved Solids at 547ppm. We are still not sure what is contained in those suspended solids.

Sewer pipes run across the wetlands. The pipes have become clogged. Rather than clear the clogging, the municipality has opened up a stream into the wetland waters, already heavily polluted with mine effluent.

Bench Marks researcher David Van Wyk said that it may be possible that Sasol who owns the coal mine encourages the flow of sewage into the wetland because it would weaken the heavy chemicals that flow from the mine dumps into the wetlands.

We tried to speak with the local municipality. We wanted to ask them to explain why they allowed the mine to pollute the wetlands and why they allowed sewage to flow into the wetlands.

The officials in charge were not available. We are still t rying to get an appointment with the SASOl management.

Air and Dust Pollution

Rhona Riet and Moleboheng Mathafeng have been following the impacts of air pollution in the area and this is what they came up with.

A VEJA report in 2007 said that the area of Sasolburg has been victim to SASOL air pollution since the 1950’s.The communities exposed to these chemicals suffer from a range of respiratory, skin and eye problems. From our expeience we know that a large number of people suffer from asthma , eye irritations, sinus, skin and respiratory problems.

As residents of Zamdela ourselves we are also affected by these industries as we all know that our ambient air is dirty.

We did door to door interviews with residents to understand how they felt or what they understand about the air pollution. We found that most of them they are well aware of the air pollution. Here are the notes from our interviews.

Rhona Riet’s diary notes

I met the lady outside she was cleaning her yard. It was around 9am. I asked her “Mam can I ask you a few questions about our dirty air in Zamdela” She smiled and dropped what she was doing and said ‘yes lets go inside’,

.We walked into her house and she offered me a chair. She told me “ke nna Mrs Puleng Thabane and our street name is Pelo Ya Phofu street 1288 Zamdela Sasolburg”

I asked her of how long has she been living in Zamdela she tells me “I arrived here in 1981 and since I got here I became sick, every Monday I would go to the doctor for different reasons.If it was not rash around my eyes then it would be sinus and or diarrhoea. Up to now I am still suffering from these illness and in my family we are all wearing glasses as we are affected by the air pollution. We lost two family members due to the dirty air.They had tuberculosis. And as you can see our roofing its made out of asbestos which is now very old. Our houses were built during the 1960’s and contributing to our bad health. These houses are starting to crack and its very cold in here.Most people suffer from arthritis due to the cold” said Mme Puleng who looked very upset as she talked.

“Our children are being born with pneumonia, asthma and eye infections. But it really gets better when it rains as it was raining yesterday we feel less sick even our air it smell fresh but it’s quite a challenge during hot days because you can smell the chemicals coming from SASOLFIRM and it worries me a lot because at SASOLFIRM they don’t take full responsibilities to see how we as Zamdela residents are affected or for them to have the decency to change our roofing” she said.

A s I did further research I met a group of youth in Zamdela and I asked them “how do you guys feel about air pollution?” They asked me “what can we do because we are looking for a better living, we need jobs”. And that’s how our debate started.They told me “we need money any way we are sick so we might as well go for the industry which is killing our family and friends”. As I persisted “how are you guys affected, let’s not focus on the money issue” they started to open up.

The first guy

“I am Thabo And I moved to Zamdela in 1992 I was in Gr.4 and since I moved here I have experienced illness.The flu we are having is very different from other towns and I am suffering from sinus and asthma and I have a skin infection.

Second guy

“I am Teboho. I moved to Zamdela in 1997 and I am suffering from sinus and now that it is spring season my life is hell, it gets worse because trees are blooming.In 2010 I suffered a lot I had a hectic headache and the doctors told me it’s the sinus causing the headache. I had blood clot so I had to have an operation in my head to release the blood though I’m still suffering from sinus but its better.

Young Woman

I also met with a young woman who works near Zamdela taxi rank which is not far from Sasolfirm and she said “One morning it was around winter season 09:00 am there was a leakage in Sasolfirm and we were told by one of the employees that it is amonia. The leakage lasted for 3 hours.I could not breath well and the doctor gave me a pill to calm me down and my friend suffers from asthma she was out of breath. Luckily she had her pump with her. I can’t believe we nearly died and I can’t forget that day.It still feels like yesterday as I’m telling you about my experiences” .

Molebohengs Diary Notes

We spoke to people in the location called Lusaka in Zamdela.

Mama Molly

“I don’t know how these people think we are coping about this dust. Our children are not safe we are even afraid to speak about how we are affected as the community of Lusaka I recently found out that I have TB, I also have arthritis but I don’t even know how many sicknesses I have in my body. Some of us are afraid to say anything to anyone because most of us in this area are sick with different sicknesses. I am very pleased to be talking to you girls. Even our children are suffering from eye problems, sinuses and chest pains.

Mr Mzamo

Most of the people are treated for TB. I also myself have TB and I did not know that I was sick until I had a cough for 3 weeks. I thought it was just flu. I went to the clinic to find out what was wrong with me.They said I had TB. I did not know what to say. This was the worse thing that ever happened in my life. It feels painful how people can be so ignorant with other people’s lives and now I have to go after everu 15 days to collect my medication. Yet I don’t even have money to go and see the doctor and the treatment is for 9 months. Our people need to be protected

Workers in the Mine


Victoria Riet Diary Notes

I spoke to ex-workers in the SIGMA mine They were more concerned more about their dismissal than about their health.

I interviewed a gentleman by the name Mr. Mulambo

“I started working at SIGMA mine in 1976 until the year 1998, and went on sick leave. When I returned to work I was told that I no longer have the job. I was gibven no valid reasons, no warnings or anything so ever. Years later I got a job at the same mine but i was now contracted for another company called Triangle.”

In 2013 this company dissmissed the workers for no reason He went to the Labor Department for help. He was then sent to Johannesburg to a place where they only deal with chemicals and mines. He got no help here.

He has been up and down from 2013 till currently.He owns a hair dressing salon at the location of Zamdela to make a living.

There are a lot of other ex-workers that he used to work with who have been in this battle up until this day SIGMA mine does not exist anymore and there is no information about them as ex-workers on the mining computer.