On the 29th of July the Community Monitors digital mapping teams from Mpumalanga and Rustenburg met in Johannesburg to work with David Van Wyk from the Bench-Marks Foundation to do mapping of Soweto. The digital mapping team is utilizing an online mapping program called Ushahidi to create field reports that we are able to send in, these reports post immediately to an online map that anyone can access.

 

One of the first major issues that we ran into was the George Harrison Heritage Park that was supposed to be closed down, but was still being accessed and used by illegal mine workers that were working under little to no safety guidelines and were being exploited. The 2nd major issue that we were exposed to, was the pollution that was running into nearby cities and rivers from the mine dumps around Soweto.

 

The George Harrison Park has become a national heritage site, but it is hardly being taken care of by the government. Due to unemployment and the need to for work illegal gold mining has been resumed down in the old shaft. The workers are being exploited by not only the person they work for, Kenny Kunene aka the “Sushi King”, but also by municipal officials. The workers work down in these mines for sometimes a week or more under zero municipal or government regulations or safety guidelines. In an interview with one mine worker, he said.

“The ground fell on someone one week ago, he survived but had a ruptured skull, damaged eye, and a broken sholder. He died later at the hospital, and it was kept private because we are not supposed to be there. Also  we don’t have personal protective equipment.”

In addition to this the workers are only receiving a percentage of what they make while Sushi King receives over half. At the same time local officials know what is going on at this mine and whenever they come, it is just expected that the miners will pay him anywhere from 500 to 800 rand for him to leave them alone. The police station is less than 500 meters from George Harrison Park. The conditions for these workers are sub standard and they are being taken advantage of.

 

There is also an open cast at George Harrison Park that is directly next to an elementary school playground and there are no fences separating the two. There is dust coming down from this open cast right on top of the school during windy days and this dust has been linked to asthma and respiratory issues. After leaving this area we began doing water testing experiments at Mooifontein and Durban Roodipoort Deep shaft 17. We found that the water in these areas was highly acidic and running off into the Vaal River. The chemicals coming out of the pipes can be seen in the dirt and rocks surrounding the water.

 

In Diepkloof mine dump we did a water particle test and we found the water contained 2520 particles per million (PPM). Water that a person is able to drink must contain less that 600 PPM. The chemicals in this mine runoff contain sulfur, iron, copper, phosphate, uranium, and strontium. We found that this runoff had broken through different parts around the dump and was flowing into the stream and houses were just on the other side. Goats and Cattle were eating grass that contained these pollutants. Also, directly next to this dump there was a prison where water from the dump was starting to flood the bottom floors.

 

The last stop on our “toxic tour” took us to Orlando West to the Klipspruit river where sewage water and mine waste were mixing with the river water. The water was soapy and thick and there was even a portion where two chemical water was meeting this dirty water. People have been using this water for Baptisms and traditional healers are using the waters for their rituals. People are unaware of the harmful effects that can come from this water, as we even found a man who was washing his face because he believed it containted healing powers.

 

People should not have to be forced to work in terrible conditions because there are no jobs for them. As well, people should not be exposed to waste from corporations that are highly harmful to their health and the environment. We made reports on everything that we saw taking place in these areas and have uploaded them to our map. We plan to continue following up on changes in these areas for better or worse and continue publishing articles and podcasts on these issues.

 

By Tyler Spencer

soweto