The South African government has hinted at the introduction of a new environmental tax in an effort to address future eruptions of acid mine drainage (AMD) in a country where the economy largely depends on mining.
This comes as Cabinet meets this week to discuss recommendations made by a special task team to investigate how government should respond to reports of acid water drainage in some parts of the country.
Water Affairs Minister Edna Molewa, speaking at an Infrastructure Development cluster briefing on Tuesday, said while the proposal has not been tabled to Cabinet yet, it was something the state was “seriously” looking at.
“There have to be mechanisms that are put in place to ensure that the law is adhered to … we all have a duty to ensure that we protect the environment so it’s a discussion that is there. The Department of Finance has a document that is circulating on environmental tax and we will see what happens in the future,” Molewa said.
Acid mine water, or water contaminated with heavy metals as a result of mining activities, is reportedly affecting the Gauteng, Mpumalanga, North West and Free State provinces. Reports suggest that this drainage poses health and economic risks for the country. Abandoned mines in Johannesburg and Mpumalanga had been the hardest hit so far.
With the mining industry contributing more than 30 percent to the country’s total export revenue, and having employed 2.9 percent of the country’s economically active population by 2009, environmentalists have termed AMD as the biggest single threat to the country’s economy and environment.
Molewa said government will also be pursuing those who have been operating the mines in a bid to recoup the costs of addressing AMD, which have been estimated to run into billions of rands. The department will use Section 19 of the Water Services Act to force the companies that operated the mines to pay undisclosed fines to the department.
“We are going to gazette Section 19 that says we must hold people accountable if found guilty of having polluted water and so on.”
Government has been criticised for the manner in which it has handled the AMD crisis, with environmentalist accusing officials of not acting decisively on the matter.
Molewa told BuaNews that this week’s Cabinet meeting will give an indication of an action to be taken to address the problem, which she admitted was the single biggest environmental crisis facing the country.
The recommendations by the experts are expected to assess the risk and look at what has already been done by various institutions and then explore the available solutions and technology.
“A lot has been said about government’s response to the situation and we would like to assure everyone that we take this very seriously … Government is as concerned about this issue, hence it’s been taken to Cabinet and South Africans will know this week what is to be done,” she added.