ZAC’s Devastating Pollution Dam Breach

This is the third 50|50 documentary programme that exposes the dishonesty that characterises Zululand Anthracite Colliery (ZAC), not only currently but for much of its existence. When the lies start at the top, it soon becomes the culture of an organisation where everyone defaults to being dishonest, especially when in a corner.

 In early 2000, when the mine was owned by Rio Tinto, then arguably the biggest mining company in the world, it opened three shafts and a railway siding, without informing the authorities. It operated these shafts illegally for 10 years, using water without a licence. ZAC blamed these “oversights” on an administrative error. In 2014, ZAC was granted condonation on condition it submitted Basic Assessment Reports for the three shafts and paid a puny fine of R497,000, not even ½ a million. The matter was contested by CER, TimberWatch, GET and others but, at the time, we did not have the financial or human resources to take the matter to court.

Vuslat Bayoglu states categorically that the pollution control dams at ZAC are  lined and even has the audacity to invite the 50|50 team to come and look at how ZAC does not pollute the water. Vuslat is CEO of Menar, the holding company of ZAC and of Imvukuzane Resources. Imvukuzane is back making a second bid to mine the Fuleni Reserve, despite the residents strongly resisting all attempts to mine on their land and serious concerns about the severe impacts on the iMfolozi Wilderness area that cannot be mitigated. . 

The programme shows what the 50|50 team discovers when they take up Vuslat Bayoglu’s offer and visit ZAC to follow up after the ZAC’s one pollution control dam burst through its bank on Christmas eve and sent 1.5 million litres of highly contaminated water flooding down the Black Mfolozi river into the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park. ZAC immediately blamed the flood on heavy rains a few days before and claimed it was a natural disaster that could not have been avoided. 

The truth is that ZAC knew for years that its pollution control dams were a disaster waiting to happen but did nothing about them.. For example, they are unlined. Also on 11 January 2021, a year before the breach of the slurry dam on 24 December 2021, Mr W de Witt, ZAC’s Ingwenya Plant Manager, circulated an urgent tender to clean the slurry dams by the latest 1 Feb 2021. 

scope slurry.pdf

The work was never carried out apparently because it was deemed too expensive. A clear dereliction of duty and disregard for regulations detailing the responsibility of mines for the environment and water in particular. 

Contrary to looking after water, as Vuslat Bayoglu claims ZAC does, the programme shows the ongoing contamination of all water sources in the area. In addition, the mine has killed three rivers that served as vital sources of water for the surrounding communities and the estimated 80 000 residents, their livestock and the wildlife – bushbuck, nyala, porcupines, and birdlife that used to be abundant. These rural farmers have been left to buy expensive water from exploitative waterpreneurs.

Watch the programme and draw your own conclusions about ZAC’s claim that this tragedy should be classified as a natural disaster. 

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