I was driving towards Sasolburg on the R57 south and as I approached the city I could see thick smoke blowing heavily from the smoke stacks of the giant petrochemical factories. The smoke , hovered south towards the community of Zamdela.
After passing Sasol plant on my left, I saw on my right toxic ash heaps. This is what the local community referred to as “Mount Zion”. Just in front of Mount Zion there is a taxi rank where I was meeting Thandi and Moleboheng , activists from VEJA Monitoring School. They were investigating impacts of coal mining on the community of Belina and Umgababa.
As we travelled to the mines we saw children playing in the fields at Umgababa alongside a stream that flowed from past the mines carrying industrial effluent to the wetlands nearby. We saw cattle grazing in the field and drinking from this polluted water.
Umgababa and Belina are residential areas situated less than two hundred metres from the Sasol coal mine [former SIGMA Coal Mine].
This is Thandi and Moleboheng’s report.
“After speaking with people from both communities, we found out how really bad the situation is” said Moleboheng “People in Belina are avoiding the subject of pollution, because their family members are working at the mine and they believe that by coming forward about the truth they will endanger their jobs.
After they were denied interviews by a few men and youth from the community, they went on to speak with another woman who also stays in Belina. Her husband is an ex-worker from the mine and had this to say. “Our main problem is this dust; it is really making our lives a living hell. It comes from the mines, and we feel unsafe because the soil, air and water we rely on are polluted.”
In the community of Umgababa, mine pollution is not kept a secret. The people here do not have jobs.
Thandi and Moleboheng when they were at Umgababa they met with a woman who was very happy to discuss with them the burning issues.
The woman who preferred not to give her name, said: “Our lives are really in danger. Even for our children, you’ll find that many people in this area have eye problems and also chest pains.”
She continued, ”I wish you were staying here, maybe you will understand what we are talking about and how this monster ruined our lives. Sometimes we think people are burning tyres only to find out it is that monster “Mount Zion”, because we don’t even know what to call it anymore. To be honest we are used to it. We don’t know who to talk to anymore and no one is taking us seriously.”
As community monitors we are convinced that there is a very serious problem here and that urgent action must be taken. The issue is clear, coal mining is affecting the health of these communities. Many in the community are dependent on the mines for jobs. They are scared to speak out. Our responsibility as monitors is to bring the community together to talk about this problem.
VEJA can help with campaigns and workshops around pollution, people would become more aware of the impacts of pollution as it occurs threatening their health and the environment. A unified voice will make it very hard for the mines to deny their contribution to polluting these areas.
By Thandi Ncanga and Moleboheng Mathafeng and Mduduzi Tshabalala