DRDGOLD is retreating sand and slimes dumps from Brakpan to the east of Johannesburg to Carletonville in the west, not only as its core business activity but also as a contribution to the environment and society. CHANTELLE KOTZE reports.
According to DRDGOLD CEO Niël Pretorius, the ‘City of Gold’ is a textbook example – in one sense at least – of sustainable development.
“Gold mining provided the stimulus for the development of a diverse economy in and around Johannesburg and operated in parallel with other sectors long enough for there to be a well- established economy once it, to all intents and purposes, was gone.
“But Johannesburg’s early gold miners, much like their counterparts elsewhere around the world at the time, extracted what gold they could with the basic technology available to them from the ore they mined and probably thought little if at all about the future environmental and societal impacts of the waste they created in the form of mine dumps on the emerging urban landscape.
“They could not have envisaged the level of human encroachment on mine dumps that would take place, both through social engineering that became embodied in apartheid and poorly managed urban development that continues to today. This has resulted in hundreds of thousands of people living in formal and informal communities, much too close to mine dumps for their comfort and convenience, never mind their safety and health.
“Our gold mining predecessors would probably be astounded – and hopefully impressed – by what DRDGOLD does today with what they left behind.”
Recently, environment, social and governance (ESG) factors have become the benchmark and model against which mining companies measure their sustainable development.
The awareness that has been created around ESG factors as a sustainable development measure – most recently driven by the investment community and its use of ESG criteria as a metric in its investment decisions – has been a positive move toward highlighting the importance of ESG as integral to responsible business practice.
Over and above DRDGOLD’s business objectives, environmental management and rehabilitation are inextricably linked to the company’s business strategy and are creating an increasingly compelling investment case for it.
“Our aim is to leave an enduring legacy in Johannesburg by removing old, abandoned, unmanaged or poorly managed mine dumps in urban areas; reprocessing them and redepositing the resultant waste in modern, well-managed tailings storage facilities; liberating valuable land for redevelopment; and thus making life better for communities,” says Pretorius.
DRDGOLD spent more than R230 million on various rehabilitation activities (including controlling dust) in the five years preceding FY2019 in the greater Johannesburg area alone. Last year, the spend was R45.8 million; more than 35 hectares of tailings dams were vegetated to reduce dust emissions (with measurable success) and more than 135 hectares of land, previously sterilised by mine dumps, released for redevelopment.
With its Far West Gold Recoveries operation, acquired in the last two years from Sibanye- Stillwater, DRDGOLD is gearing up to have similar positive environmental impacts on the Far West Rand in years to come.
Setting the benchmark for tailings deposition
DRDGOLD’s vision for the longer term is to create large, centralised storage facilities, remotely located, to contain the tailings that result from the sand and mine dumps it reclaims and retreats. These will be designed from the outset – and managed through to closure and beyond – to the best modern standards available.
The company’s Crown Tailings Complex, South of Johannesburg, will soon be a benchmark for concurrent rehabilitation, decommissioning, closure and management, once the three dams that form it are completely vegetated by 2023.
DRDGOLD is applying the lessons learnt at the Crown Tailings Complex at its Brakpan tailings storage facility (TSF). “We would like to be in a situation that by the time we deposit the last tailings on to the Brakpan TSF that we have very little cladding and vegetation work left to complete,” says Pretorius.
“While we began our cladding and vegetation at the Crown Tailings Complex 10 years before decommissioning, our cladding and vegetation methods and plan at Brakpan have significantly improved, focused on completing as much concurrent rehabilitation as possible.
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“Having embraced our responsibility to the environment early on in the history of the business, we believe we can leverage this to become a concurrent rehabilitation partner to other mining companies,” Pretorius concludes.
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