Mines, people and sinkholes – an analysis of the Carletonville Area in South Africa as case study regarding the national politics of secrecy

Prof. Elize S van Eeden (History); A.B. De Villiers (Geography) and Dr. L.E. Stoch
(Geological expert and local inhabitant of Carletonville)*
Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education
South Africa

To older generations the series of sinkholes that formed in the Carletonville municipal area (Oberholzer Compartment) of the Gauteng Province of South Africa during the sixties and seventies,is well-known. By 1964 permits were granted to the gold mines to drain three dolomitic compartments. This permission since then has had a serious impact on the ecology of the area and the surrounding environs. Amongst others, the Mooi River nearby was seriously contaminated. This ultimate decision by Government was clouded by the most seductive of the economic laws, namely greater profit and increased tax.

From a more local point of view the question of ethics and human rights became debateable issues. Serious psychological, and economical set-backs for inhabitants were not accounted for. The substantial tab which already resulted from the exercise required to reverse the damage runs into millions of rand. Around these events the financial drawbacks of widely known gold mines specifically, as a result of damage caused to the mining structure and property, as well as a loss of employees with their families, aroused concern. From time to time cries in dispair (about the dewatering of compartments and the consequences of polluted water due to the presence of mining activity) were made by farmers and some businessmen.

On the other side of the coin the task of central government, apparently, was binomial. Firstly its loyalty to the mining industry - as indispensable source of income. Secondly to urge the Carletonville comminty to calm down with promises of future renumeration for losses they had. A series of investigations made by Committees and Commissions followed suit. All of them apparently based on democratic principles. Oral memories and ?miner history? bear witness of falsified signatures in confidential reports that a few contributors did not even see, nor did they approve of the final product.

In the paper a more detailed discussion of the poster presentation will be given. A multi-faceted perspective will be presented on the consequences of dewatering in the Carletonville municipal area along the following structure:

An analytical view of the outcome of national secrecy on regional and economic level. The poster presentation will specifically focus on the results of dewatering such as the spate of sinkholes that resulted from the process and its effects on the people of the area. It will also focus on the inevitable disruption of the water systems and the subsequent loss of agricultural potential. One further aspect that will be highlighted is the subsequent pollution of the remaining water that are now ?circulated? through the mines.

The contributions of PU for CHE experts : Proff. H. Strydom (Social Work); A.J.H. Pieterse (Plant and Soil); Dr. F.J. Wolmarans (Private consultant in Geology and local inhabitant of Carletonville ); N. J. Jacobs (Environmental Historian from the University of Brown) as well as the empirical research input from Ph.D students Sarah Currie and Marthie Coetzee (from PU for CHE) are hereby acknowledged.