Poor South Africans Living On Toxic Remains Of Defunct Gold Mines

The Tudor Shaft informal settlement
The Tudor Shaft informal settlement
Sébastien Hervieu

MOGALE CITY - Patience Pumlangadu's black skin is now a yellowish color. "I put this powder on my face to protect it from the sun," explains the South African mother of three.

Pumlangadu makes this sun protection herself by mixing water with bits of crushed rock she says are "good for your health."

But in fact these rocks come from a nearby mound of earth, made up of waste from an old gold mine. It was at the end of 2010, a British specialist, Chris Busby, found that the level of radioactivity here was 15 times higher than normal, and recommended that the residents of the township evacuate as soon as possible.

Situated in the municipality of Mogale City, this informal settlement with a population of 5,000, named Tudor Shaft, is just down the road from one of countless radioactive dumps that dot the horizon in the region of Johannesburg. For more than a century, the mines of Egoli, "the golden city" in Zulu, have allowed South Africa to become the top economic power on the African continent. However, it has left behind numerous toxic footprints.

In 2011, a report by the regional authorities of Gauteng, the area that surrounds South Africa's economic capital Johannesburg, confirmed that 1.6 million people were living in townships near to, or even in, one of the 400 zones marked affected by mining waste.

Mariette Liefferink has been sounding the alarm for almost a decade: "The residue from gold extraction contains uranium," says the head of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE), a local environmental organization. By looking at recent analyses, these dump sites also contain, amongst other things, "aluminum, arsenic, mercury and copper," she adds.

In Tudor Shaft, an almost sulfuric odor wafts in the air. The residents say that they are having more and more difficulty breathing. Ill from tuberculosis, some of them fear that their health is worsening. There have not been any reported cases of cancer yet, although, how can we be sure when no one has conducted a study?

Responsible for protecting the population against the risk of radioactivity, South Africa's National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) recognized, in 2011, that there was a "potentially dangerous situation" and recommended that the residents be "re-housed to a more hospitable environment."

"As a precaution, we have already moved about 100 families away from the contaminated zone," confirms Nkosana Zali, spokesperson for the municipality of Mogale City, the settlement's jurisdiction area. However, on the site, we are told that in fact only 14 households have been moved, and that the recommended 500-meter security distance is not enough.

Contaminated land, contaminated water

A representative of the Tudor Shaft community, Jeffrey Ramiruti, points his finger at the Gauteng regional authorities who told him to move onto this land in 1996, when it was already strewn with spoil tips.

"The mine had only just closed, and my family, and 53 other families, had to leave the miners’ barracks to come here," he remembers. "The local government promised that it would only be a temporary solution and that we would soon have government housing. But we're still waiting..."

Since houses are still not available, a bulldozer was sent at the beginning of July to start demolishing the spoil tips. But the excavation of the site was quickly suspended: "We took the case to court because toxic land cannot be raked up without first conducting a study on the environmental impact," says Mariette Liefferink, who is also in favor of the re-housing solution.

The Australian company Mintails, which specializes in the extraction of gold residue and contaminated spoil tips, has been put charge of this operation. It has announced that the water has been treated to protect it from the toxic dust. "This is only cosmetic. Next we'll have contaminated water," Liefferink accuses.

Before the judge's final decision, the radioactive dump sites have been surrounded by a plastic security cordon, to prevent children from coming too close. "This land is dangerous; it could make my child sick," says 20-year-old Poppy Morebondi. But when we asked her if she knew what "radioactivity" meant, like many of the other residents, she shook her head.

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Protests against gasoline price hikes in Lebanon

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Wai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where leaked documents show how some countries are lobbying to change a key report on climate change, Moscow announces new full lockdown and the world's first robot artist is arrested over spying allegations. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt looks at the rapprochement between two leaders currently at odds with Europe: UK's BoJo and Turkey's Erdogan.

[*Bodo - India, Nepal and Bengal]


• Documents reveal countries lobbying against climate action: Leaked documents have revealed that some of the world's biggest fossil fuel and meat producing countries, including Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia, are trying to water down a UN scientific report on climate change and pushing back on its recommendations for action, less than one month before the COP26 climate summit.

• COVID update: The city of Moscow plans to reintroduce lockdown measures next week, closing nearly all shops, bars and restaurants, after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a nationwide seven-day workplace shutdown from Oct. 30 to combat the country's record surge in coronavirus cases and deaths. Meanwhile, India has crossed the 1 billion vaccinations milestone.

• India and Nepal floods death toll passes 180: Devastating floods in Nepal and the two Indian states of Uttarakhand and Kerala have killed at least 180 people, following record-breaking rainfall.

• Barbados elects first ever president: Governor general Dame Sandra Mason has been elected as Barbados' first president as the Caribbean island prepares to become a republic after voting to remove Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.

• Trump to launch social media platform: After being banned from several social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, former U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would launch his own app called TRUTH Social in a bid "to fight back against Big Tech." The app is scheduled for release early next year.

• Human remains found in hunt for Gabby Petito's fiance: Suspected human remains and items belonging to Brian Laundrie were found in a Florida park, more than one month after his disappearance. Laundrie was a person of interest in the murder of his fiancee Gabby Petito, who was found dead by strangulation last month.

• Artist robot detained in Egypt over spying fear: Ai-Da, the world's ultra-realistic robot artist, was detained for 10 days by authorities in Egypt where it was due to present its latest art works, over fears the robot was part of an espionage plot. Ai-Da was eventually cleared through customs, hours before the exhibition was due to start.


"Nine crimes and a tragedy," titles Brazilian daily Extra, after a report from Brazil's Senate concluded that President Jair Bolsonaro and his government had failed to act quickly to stop the deadly coronavirus pandemic, accusing them of crimes against humanity.


Erdogan and Boris Johnson: A new global power duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too, write Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung in German daily Die Welt.

🇹🇷🇬🇧 According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey. The country has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

⚠️ Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey. She never supported French President Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU. But now that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

🤝 At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense. The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016.

➡️


"He has fought tirelessly against the corruption of Vladimir Putin's regime. This cost him his liberty and nearly his life."

— David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter, following the announcement that imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was awarded the 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union's highest tribute to human rights defenders. Navalny, who survived a poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin, is praised for his "immense personal bravery" in fighting Putin's regime. The European Parliament called for his immediate release from jail, as Russian authorities opened a new criminal case against the activist that could see him stay in jail for another decade.



Chinese video platform Youku is under fire after announcing it is launching a new variety show called in Mandarin Squid's Victory (Yóuyú de shènglì) on social media, through a poster that also bears striking similarities with the visual identity of Netflix's current South Korean hit series Squid Game. Youku apologized by saying it was just a "draft" poster.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Anyone want to guess Trump's first post on his upcoming social media platform...? Let us know how the news look in your corner of the world — drop us a note at!

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