Regarding the issue of policies and laws on the management of mine dust, it is important to note that we are not in a situation where these issues exist in a policy and legal vacuum.
We do have policy’s and legal frameworks in place and we ought to pay cognisance to this.
We have the constitution that lays the foundation for all our legal framework in South Africa and that gives the national, provincial, regional and local sphere a chance to regulate air quality.
We have NEMA (National Environmental Management Act) that sets out principles. Furthermore, we have frameworks both for the occupational health and safety (OHS) and for community health and safety.
However, the general feelings of the group with regards to the policies and law were: overwhelmed, frustrated and angry. The situation is seen as being complex and confusing, and some of the members felt guilty and a sense of responsibility for the issue. Simply, the group felt that the law is not doing its job and there is vast amounts of work to be done.
There was lots of feedback on the constraints of the current state of policies and law. Specifically, the group unpacked the question: What exactly is holding us back here? The constant shifting of goal posts in terms of changing policy’s and requirements was raised as a constraint, as the lack of consistency negatively affects efficiency and stability. The industry members also feel that by complying will the various policies and laws, they are at risk of being uncompetitive and are disadvantaged financially. Companies would compete with imports that do not have the same policys and regulations to comply with. There is a lack of political and governmental will and accountability. In addition to government corruption, there is a lack of independence of academia, who are reliant on funding from the industry. Furthermore, there are loopholes in the legal framework that the industry players exploit and the enforcement of laws and policies is inconsistent as there are not the personnel to enforce the law.
Importantly, there are positives to the situation. The South African constitution is undeniably good, as is NEMA. There is a solid and reputable scientific and academic community. Furthermore, there is good guidance and advice from parts of our government, with Western Cape showing good enforcement practices. There is also opportunity for a wider footprint in which knowledge sharing extends into the rest of the African continent. Finally, we have a strong civil society that holds industry players to account, backed up by strong advocacy and judiciary systems.
The process requires holistic thinking, in which it is realized that we are not reinventing the wheel. Cognisance of what exists already must be taken, and existing policies, frameworks and legal systems must be amended and aligned accordingly. Obviously, sustainability principles will guide the process. The process requires good governance in which government and NGOs will overlook the process. The development must be practical, affordable, broad based and consultative, furthermore the development must be reflexive, allowing for continuous re-evaluation with evidence based progression. The process must incrementally progressive and not regressive; the time for progression is now.
While there are uniform standards for measuring and reporting, there are not uniform standards for monitoring and evaluation, which is a state function. Air quality officers (AQO) in the municipalities have access to comprehensive reports on air quality but they are not able to interpret them properly or consistently, and not having consequence management. There are also reports of the practice of managing mine dust being different in other countries compared to African countries. Thus, not only the standards should be benchmarked, but also the enforcement. This reveals the need and the opportunity for a 4th
industrial revolution solution to the monitoring, evaluation and enforcement.
Furthermore, the economics behind dust should be re-imagined. It is critical that the economic burden of mine dust is conceptualised into and accounted for in the design process, and is thus evaluated when mines are authorised as part of the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment). There should also be incentives for industry to deal with mine dust, such as have tax breaks. It is observed that currently it is very much a stick approach as apposed to a carrot and the stick approach – there is not enough incentives when dealing with mine dust. The industry should also do something with the dust that has some kind of industry benefit.
The mine closure funds should be able to be accessed in some capacity. It is claimed that there is close to R45 billion in various closure facilities. These funds should be accessible for research, development and actual practices that will lead to control of mine dust.
Finally, it is important that there is some kind of mechanism for stakeholders to pay their ecological debt.
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