Acid mine drainage

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) prosecution of the directors of Aurora Empowerment Systems starts on 28 May 2019.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) was informed in early March that summons had been issued and that prosecution should commence on the above date for environmental and water transgressions at the failed Grootvlei mine near Springs in the Upper Vaal Management Area.

The mismanagement and looting of the mine by its directors led to the collapse of the mine, leaving 5 300 mineworkers unemployed.

The Grootvlei looting included the removal in of pumps essential for controlling the acid mine drainage (AMD) into Gauteng’s water sources, resulting in uncontrolled AMD spillage into the Blesbokspruit, which drains into the Vaal River.

The former directors of Aurora now facing prosecution are Khulubuse Zuma, Zondwa Mandela, Thulani Ngubane and Raja Alam Shah.

“It is presumed that the prosecution will lean on, among other legal provisions, section 151 of the National Water Act (36 of 1998) that criminalises any non-compliance with water licence conditions.

"In terms of the provision and considering that this may be the Aurora directors’ first conviction on this charge, they may be liable for a fine or be sentenced to a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years, or to both a fine or imprisonment,” says Advocate Stefanie Fick, OUTA’s Chief Legal Officer.

While under Aurora’s control, a plethora of issues were reported on the mine, which include the discharge of AMD which contaminated the Blesbokspruit that feeds into the Marievale wetland and ultimately the Vaal River.

"AMD contains high concentrations of metals, sulphides and salts, and can cause an environmental disaster as it adversely affects surrounding ecosystems, polluting surface- and groundwater and eventually the soil.

"According to experts, while Grootvlei was under Aurora's control, the East Rand was teetering on the brink of an environmental disaster as the toxic water could have contaminated the groundwater resources.

“The decision to prosecute was taken following two years of engagement between OUTA and the NPA, with OUTA expressing its disappointment with the delay and indicating its appetite to privately prosecute the matter, if needed,” says Yamkela Ntola, OUTA's Water and Environment Portfolio Manager.

OUTA hopes that under the leadership of the new National Director of Public Prosecutions, Advocate Shamila Batohi, the successful prosecution of Aurora’s directors will demonstrate the NPA’s desire to restore public confidence in its ability to execute its mandate without fear or favour.