Sunday, 3 August 2008

Karst Disasters

The Worlds Greatest Karst Disaster

Involving one hundred years of well-intended anthropogenic destruction, which is destroying a unique karst groundwater system and habitat

The city of Johannesburg in South Africa had its beginnings 1886 when gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand by an Australian prospector named George Harrison.

Most gold mines in the Johannesburg (JHB) area ceased operation in the late 1970s. These closed mines were considered as future potential reserves. Interspersed amongst them were a few productive mines, which continued to pump out invading groundwater. The mining houses had long relied upon the South African government to help finance the back pumping of ingressing groundwater to enable access to continuous supplies of gold from deeper gold rich seams. At the time many leading academics and others were unaware that the water they were back pumping came from the abundant, dolomitic rock that surrounds Johannesburg. Furthermore, these groundwater reservoirs were of a great depth and area, thus containing an immense water reserve.

In 1995 the government discontinued its pumping subsidy and allowed the un-used voids to fill with groundwater. By 2002 the groundwater table essentially restored itself to the pre mining days and started overflowing from natural springs at the lowest altitude, which is located 1.5km north of the Krugersdorp Game Reserve (KGR), west of Johannesburg. Output or decant was recorded at 15 -30 ml. per day with seasonal variation. It was only when fish, birds and then mammals started dying within the KGR that anyone sat up and took notice. On investigation the decanting water was found to contain elevated levels of sulphates of 5300mg/l (Council for Geosciences readings). The Environmental Protection Agency primary (enforceable) maximum contaminant level for sulphates in drinking water is 500 mg/l. On closer investigation the findings reported a plethora of heavy metals including high Uranium, Lead 1,2,3 (as a result of both geological dissolution and that of Uranium dissolution). Molybdenum, Manganese, Zinc and other unacceptably high heavy metals. The actual total volume of overflow water appears to be increasing which suggests leakage from the old storage dams.

The sulphate levels were directly attributed to the dissolution of the gold bearing conglomerate which includes pyrites and the latter mentioned heavy metals. Diverse bacteria, particularly acidithiobacillus were being held responsible for the elevated sulphate levels which caused the discharging groundwater to have a pH of around 2.0. The bacterium most often responsible for iron and sulphur consumption/dissolution is Thiobacillus ferrooxidans, but usually other species also occur.

A honeycomb of thousands of kilometres of interconnected mine shafts, tunnels and voids under JHB and the entire Witwatersrand created a diversionary storm water drainage system for the greater JHB catchment. Many mega litres of storm water had been inadvertently allowed to pass through this now expansive subterranean drainage system which decants west of JHB. As a result of this diversionary flow during winter months (lowest rainfall) the entire process is slowed right down, allowing for mega litres of groundwater to be impacted by the acidic exudation of huge and expanding colonies of acidithiobacillus. This continuing process now sees the water being contaminated by diverse species of Thiobacillus bacteria. These organisms are producing corrosive plumes which emanate from over 200 mineshafts and now all the contaminated rivers around JHB. . Although this is a centrally important in mine management, and absolutely crucial to the problems which arise in karst sites, it is an extremely complex and not fully understood phenomenon. 1

The dolomite Karst surrounding JHB is hugely interconnected. Hypothesized to be
a) one of the globe’s oldest (c. 2300 billion years old)
b) overlain by the Bushveld Igneous Complex (BIC) and
c) being vastly expansive covering an area of 500km x 250km which could mean that this is a unique kind of regenerating (post the BIC cover) Karst system.

The total catchment is much larger by the mere virtue of the system being so vast. Catchments involved are the Limpopo River Catchment to the northeast and the Vaal River Catchment to the south west. Both of which provide water to South Africa and her neighbours - Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique. The Limpopo based karst is a cross boundary karst as it is shared with Botswana.

A mean average of approximately 20 mega liters per day of contaminated groundwater has flowed into rivers and karst systems from the mining voids of JHB over the past six years with little or no intervention to launder the water within the voids. The overflowing fluvial flow disappears via a sunken stream or swallet some three kilometers downstream the now smitten KGR. Unfortunately this contaminated AMD water is being returned to the dolomite karst aquifers in a highly contaminated form. Hypotheses have been leveled at the South African authorities as to the outcomes in years to come from a karst health, structural and water quality point of view to no avail. Offers of assistance from the international community have also been turned away as the Government appears to believe that there is not any cause for concern. It is a nice example of the Ostrich syndrome.

The action being taken is only dealing with the over-flowing water which is processed and sold at a considerable and profitable price by government sanctioned companies. There appears to be no awareness at all that this water is only a very small part of the total groundwater reservoir and there is inevitably a great diversity of underground flows through the karst. Thus the current program serves opportunistically to increase revenue, but has no impact at all on reducing the problem and probably exacerbates it. Regrettably the ostrich response means that it is not possible to do any further research or even to properly monitor what is happening

Many hundreds of viable wild cave habitats, including the world famous Cradle of Humankind World Heritage fossil site at Sterkfontein are in direct conflict with the ongoing decant and associated complications. It is really very clear that unless appropriate action is taken, there will be irreversible detrimental damage to the world Heritage Site and to the greater Witwatersrand and her people, not to mention the detriment which will play out and also damage South Africa’s unsuspecting neighbours. This will include the belated impact to the world famous Kruger National Park which is in a direct surface flow path of the Limpopo River and the associated Oliphant’s River catchments.

1. Nordstrom, D.K. & Southam, G. 1997. Geomicrobiology of sulfide mineral oxidation. In Geomicrobiology: Interactions between microbes and minerals, Reviews in Mineralogy, 35, 361-390.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

IUCN SA Karst Working Group

IUCN (SA) Karst Working Group

All pictures are taken by and remain the property of Mike Buchanan
For information and prices on cave or karst pictures please email:-


The Cave Research Organisation of South Africa (C.R.O.S.A.) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature South Africa Country Office (IUCN SA) established the Karst Working Group. The first meeting, with Saliem Fakir and Mike Buchanan present, was held at The IUCN SA in Pretoria on Wednesday 9 July 2003.

The first founder meeting was held at The IUCN SA Pretoria. Thursday 5 February 2004. Present: were Melinda Swift (GDACE), Saliem Fakir (IUCN), Murray McGregor (independent karst consultant), Melissa Fourie (IUCN SA), Leintjie Cohen (Mpumalanga Parks Board). Garfield Krige (Land Owner), Neil Norquay (Wild Cave Adventures), Mike Buchanan (C.R.O.S.A.). Nigel Fernsby (GNORBIG) Bat interest Group.


A Karst Working Group (KWG) was created to caution, document, advise and to help monitor and reverse the degradation of karst systems in the old “Transvaal” South Africa; now Gauteng, Northwest Province, Limpopo Province and Mpumalanga. This working group was to oversee direction on the rehabilitation and remediation of South Africa's Neoachaean dolomite palaeokarst basin - the South African Aquifer (SAA), of which 75% resides under the Bush Veld Igneous Complex (BIC) - a vastly dynamic Karst groundwater system, that has taken 2300 million years to evolve. This huge basin has its central point at an altitude of 3300 ft above mean sea level (amsl), where effluxes from ancient hydrothermal springs/vents are evident. It has a perimeter altitude in the south of 5000ft amsl (Sterkfontein Caves environs) and a northerly perimeter of 4000 ft amsl (Makapan Valley).
The disparity has been created by the geological shifting/tilting of this basin due to historical occurrence's, i.e. tectonics, volcanic action and /or meteorite impact which created the Vreedefort Dome astrobleme. The latter possibly being the most likely cause.


In the mid 1990’s much debate and concerns were leveled at the new Government around delays in management of natural places and State Reserves. This was seen to be a low priority for our fledgling democracy. Conservation was deemed an apartheid word and connected to land dispossession of previously disadvantaged people.

Early days – 1994/5

During this time, the seeds of the KWG were sown. The original concept started small, with the start of an organization called The Friends of Wolkberg. This conservation concept started around campfires outside the Wolkberg Caves in Limpopo Province during monitoring visits. The primary originators were: -
Chris Wynn, a concerned CROSA member, Stanley Rodgers, an Environmental Officer with the Department of Environment and Tourism (DEAT), Polokwane, Mike Buchanan. Chairperson for The Cave Research Organization of South Africa, Cornelius and Mrs. Van Den Berg, both environmental managers with the Department of Environment and Tourism (DEAT), Polokwane. Cornelius was the manager in charge of the Wolkberg Wilderness Area, Wolkberg Caves Nature Reserve and Legalametsie Nature Reserve.

At first, it was noted that the Government was not going to pass any form of budget to protect The Wolkberg Caves Nature reserve. We believed then that this site warranted world wilderness recognition as a protected water farm or equivalent.

The Wolkberg caves were being subjected to theft and general neglect. Many local folk and politicians called for the opening of Wolkberg Caves to the public. This included the heritage farmhouses on the government owned adjacent farm Mimosa. We embarked on an awareness campaign, introducing many knowledgeable and interested people to the area and they agreed with the urgent need for conservation or environmental protection of the area. The caves were also known to be Histoplasma capsulatum (caves disease) prevalent. This discouraged tourism to the cave, but not to the farm or established reserves. We embarked on more fund raising initiatives and at about that time DEAT stepped in and informed us that if we wanted to go forward, we should include all the established reserves, including those that were owned privately, namely. Des Saco - Ashmoledales, Thabina & Legalametsi Nature Reserves and the Wolkberg Wilderness Area. This was to be called The Drakensburg Escarpment Biosphere Reserve Program (DEBR); a multi-stakeholder initiative. Unfortunately this was a bad decision because it left DEAT Limpopo with far to unwieldy program to manage.
All the private stakeholders were told to pull out due to the initial size of the project. This sound advice came from Advocate François Junod, a master of conservation areas private conservation programs. François was the creator of The Magalisberg Nature Reserve and the new Water Act for our new South Africa. François had continually cautioned about going to big too fast. Typically these projects had the makings of a failure due to the old analogy of biting of more than you can chew! The DEBR is still ongoing and no progressive changes have been made at any of the reserves the project was intended to conserve.


Mike Buchanan has made allegations of bad management of the dynamic karst system supporting The Cradle of Human Kind World Heritage Site, including the rest of The SAA. These have been directed at to both Dept Water affairs and Forestry (DWAF) and GDACE. Multifarious abusers exist; most unaware of induced damage, and they all need to be encouraged to comply with international karst best practice for a reversal of the situation. Mike then joined the international IUCN, WCPA, Task force on cave and karst, which is under the leadership of Professor Elery Hamilton Smith, Australia; an international leader in karst management and world karst matters. Elery is well informed around new and existing karst concerns. It was Elery that encouraged Mike to approach The IUCN SA for assistance on the creation of a multi-stakeholder Karst Working Group (KWG).

Both Elery and Mike have developed a sound working relationship within the IUCN WCPA Task force on Cave and Karst and they maintain constant contact with the exchange of local and international developments.


Mr Saliem Fakir, from the IUCN South Africa, was approached by Mike Buchanan (then chairperson for CROSA) around concerns relating to a deficit in "impact assessment" around the tourism potential of The Cradle of Human Kind and the rest of The SAA. This site was declared a World Heritage Site (CHK WHS) by UNESCO in 1999 because of the paleao & cultural significance of the area. Many other issues around karst misuse were starting to come to fruition around the huge South African Aquifer basin.

The original intended focus of the creation of this working group was to invite all stakeholders on karst matters to attend and contribute, thus enabling the dissemination of international best practice information pertaining to karst use and conservation. This came about as a result of extensive research by Mike on the impacts facing caves and groundwater supporting the CHKWHS. Many mining, agricultural and development impacts were becoming increasingly concerning. Urbanization on the Pretoria karst near Irene and Verwoerdburg were getting out of hand. Not to mention that of Johannesburg and Mogale City on The CHKWHS. The Authorities had all failed to identify the imminent threats and were not perturbed by them at the time, even though many of these problems had been brought to the following departments attention; namely DACE, DWAF and DEAT as early as 1998.

Both Saliem and Mike felt that the establishment of a multi-stakeholder Karst Working Group was essential. It was decided that the working group should be called The IUCN SA Karst Working Group. Mike set about drawing up a list of stakeholders. This led to a founder meeting, where a way forward was planned.

Mike and others then set out to raise finance by approaching GDACE, SASOL, ALPHA Cement, Goldfields and other well known corporate companies. We also attempted to bring the biggest impactors on board; i.e. the mines. This was achieved by inviting Goldfields Dr Andries Leuschner to join and a turning point was attained.

The rest of the progress of the KWG has been well documented in it's own annals. 2005 saw quite a number of changes. Mike Buchanan had felt some were commercialising the KWG to attain funding, rather than getting down to drawing up codes of conduct for karst users and researchers, which was seen as a pre-requisite. Mike then started a more intensive campaign, to create interdepartmental Government awareness. Saliem resigned from the IUCN SA in late 2005. It is important to point out that the three originators are still on the mailing list, namely Stan Rodgers, Cor Van den Berg and Mike Buchanan.


The current direction of the KWG is cautiously slow. Stakeholders representation is very weak and funding is what is needed right now in order to maintain momentum and attract research interest. This should be provided by the departments responsible for the tasking of Conservation on/in Karst Wetland Systems. DWAF should be leading the way on this topic, as the rest of the world is currently registering Karst as wetlands under the RAMSAR convention. The GDACE have had good representation on the KWG with very little funding in support of the project. This has primarily come in the form of paid publications from Blue IQ and the Water Research Commission, who has kept the KWG afloat. However, funding has been scant for the amount of awareness that this voluntary working group has achieved to date. It is in the interest and the responsibility of these departments, along with the Department of Minerals & Energy Affairs, to provide funding. If theses departments had heeded the advice given to them in the 1990’s (N.B. many paid government papers) we would not have required the KWG in the first place. In effect the government is currently shifting responsibility onto a voluntary, under-funded KWG to provide the functions that is, without doubt, a government responsibility, namely Karst and groundwater management.. Perhaps a Karst Institute or commission is what is required as an independent overarching governmental body, financed by the tax payer.

It would be a disastrous mistake not to adopt an independent, unbiased Governmental Karst Commission or similar, to curtail the current ignorance around the multifarious issues pertaining to South African Karst and the associated groundwater.

2 April 2006

Histoplasma capsulatum - Histo - South Africa 2006
Histoplasma spores are prevalent in the atmosphere all the time. Our immune systems tolerance is derived by the local level of exposure. Within certain caves, typically low energy systems receding/dropping water table being the key to increased prevalence, the closer to the equator the more the prevalence becomes. Along with all other tropical diseases.

Histoplasma capsulatum is an intelligent Dimorphic Fungus. This does not mean it can make tea. The intellect comes in the form of a transformation from a fungus into a yeast, as the spore settles and defuses through the alveoli membranes of the lung, into the blood stream.
"Calcareous lesions" as reported radiologically historically, have been disproved by direct biopsy. The prevalence of reactive lymph nodes within the lungs specifically in the mediastinum is what we see as a "storm" on the x-ray image.

As with the evolution of the development of your immune system from birth, so too does your immune system learn to tolerate future exposure to volumetrically higher levels of the spores I.e. in a damp dark cave.. The fungus will grow on/in any biological matter if provided a constant Rh, temp and my passion, darkness. Just like within the lungs. An ideal incubator for many diseases. Hence a regular misdiagnosis as tuberculosis or TB.
This is not a bat disease as is portrayed by ignorance historically. Histo can also be cultured in old books in darkened archives. Histo is not a disease that you want to acquire. Therefore anyone exposed to the fungus knowingly, should be exposed with the knowledge that they will have an immune system adjustment. Thereby providing deficits in other possible immunity like the exposure to chemotherapy or other yeast based drugs. Visitors to caves must be informed, which is not happening. Apart from some caving clubs and research organisations.
Histoplasma capsulatum is a yeast borne disease. Yeast bourne diseases are one of the four most deleterious diseases known to human kind. Most prevalent in subterranean ecosystems, along with many other undocumented bacteria, fauna and flora found in this under valued essential component of our carbon and water cycle's.
South Africa's top expert Dr. Celia Young, now retired, is contactable through the South African Laboratory Service. Previously The South African Institute for Medical Research. SAIMR. The Department of Mycology can help with Celia's contact details should you wish to include her in the quest for further karst based knowledge.
Wonder Caves has had no report of histo historically due to the nature of ventilation, modified environment, compaction, oxidization, etc. The correct assumption or description would be a low prevalence or occurrence. Should we be able to detect spores from Histo (impossible due to size) we would find them in both Sterkfontein and Wonder Caves respectfully.
The same can be said for the use of face masks. These filters are typically violated due to the minute size of the African Histopalsma capsulatum spore. Which some authors deem a mutinagen of the American Histoplasma. However this is doubtful, subject to further investigation.
Once a patient contracts Histo, one should be aware of consuming conflicting yeast products and build up of yeasts within your own body (a personal observation), or be aware of yeast sensitivity's as the medical profession refers to. This could become problematic as the patient ages and matures along with the disease. Knowledge and a strong immune system for the patient is the best remedy in this case. Should one contract aggressive histo or have a stressed immune system and contract Histo, Itraconazol is the drug of choice (South Africa pharma - Sporonox) which may be taken with Amphicilin B for the more acute cases. This should be administered under the direct control of a knowledgeable Physician.
Mike Buchanan 2006 CROSA

Mine Acid Decant Western Area
A Health Issue for The South African Aquifer

Groundwater Invertebrates
Cave Amphipoda

A mine acid decant was predicted in Gov financed publications as early as 1995. This decant and the subsequent research did not identify that the acid water would ultimately decant into fresh potable groundwater reserves.

Up to five years back, heavy metals poisoning was becoming prevalent around the point of decant prior to the commencement of surface flow. All animals including humans were the casualties.

In August 2002 almost to the forecast date, the brew/cocktail of sulphate based heavy metals started to flow from any conceivable spring, mine ventilation and mine shaft at this lowest altitude just south of the now collapsing (both figuratively and literally) Krugersdorp Game Park west of Mogale City.

Theorists (possibly those who got us into the mess we are in - The Mine Geohydrologists) initially thought that this decant was directly attributable to the two largest gold mine tailings dams in South Africa. This was later proved to be incorrect due to the amount of water resurgence experienced seasonally.

The decant was also predicted to flow to the south into the Wonderfontein catchment, consisting of some of the most extensive dolomite (karst) areas. This was also said to be desirable by those geohydrologists.

In the mean time much international best practice was beginning to emerge around the “Dolomite/Palindaba Rock” that we are privileged to have an abundance of! This geology acquired a new name called Karst. As this geology has now (1948 rest of world) been identified as one of the most sensitive to pollutants of any kind, as the geology is remarkable in its water carrying and its ability to purify rainwater to acceptable potable limits.

Unfortunately highly fractured and defuse as detailed in a South African publication” The Story of Life and Earth” by Mc McCarthy and Rubidge. They explain how meteorites and plate tectonics have fractured this dolomite almost like the shattering of a motor vehicle windscreen.

Our karst is some of the oldest in the world (paleaokarst). A huge hydrologically dynamic system that has baffled and eluded even those who “profess” to be masters/scientists on the topic.

This karst, once sediment, was laid down over millions, if not billions of years and is still evolving. As karst is a carbon dioxide sink, balancing the CO2 effect/s on/of global warming. It is also seen as a weather moderator being responsible for report and delivery of our rainfall patterns.

During deep mining operations we have inadvertently connected multiple natural catchments by interconnecting all the historical mining shafts/tunnels throughout the entire eastern, central and western JHB mining voids. Creating a diversionary storm water drainage system that unfortunately decants at the lowest altitude.
The position just south of the Krugersdorp Game Park.
Reports of animals dieing as a result of Mine Acid Drainage have been prolific for the last two years and we have failed to respond. Gauteng’s Dept. Health, Epidemiology has no idea about the detrimental decant of heavy metals.
Including dissolved Uranium! Prevalent in the Wits (gold bearing) geology. Each heavy metal providing a unique mineral dissolving phoebe or bacterial colony.

Not to mention the differing hazardous leads that will precipitate during this dissolution of the uranium and other toxic heavy metals. The lead1,2,3,4 compounds (some in aerosol form) have reportedly caused untold human toxification. To be remedied (should they be fortunate enough) at their own expense. DME

The Council for Geosciences have been very active with regards all aspects of this heavy metal poisoning, as their own staff have personal projects in the making re the deleterious nature of the heavy metal contaminated decant. If this is truly the case, these sufferers/patients have the right to know why the investigating geohydrologists or physicists/practitioners felt that the Dept Health should not be involved.

We are also dealing with some academic ignorance of the ultimate direction of this toxic water's flow.
As a result of this sedimentary succession being laid down in the form of an Achaean sea. Then, the 2100 million year time laps before humans evolved into what we are today. This sea was subject to a proverbial bombardment of diverse environmental stresses. Volcanic - meteorite - tectonic impacts fracturing the sediment and all associated igneous (volcanic) infill rock within this sedimentary now solidified three dimensional inland sea or water body. Aquifer.

Most well versed karst hydrologists will always view karst deposition in a sedimentary way. A bowl shaped geology containing many differing layers which host a plethora of life’s answers, groundwater conduits and channels still to be explored.

The ultimate realisations are that the karst basins or bowls all have a central point to the host basin, too which groundwater will always flow. Typically interspersed by a series of hydrothermal springs (hot water) as we have in the Warm Baths, Bella Bella area. These thermal springs are the clues to the karst basin hydrologist. Including the fact that they emanate from deep-seated buried karst. Chem data.

After investigations more hydrothermal springs were found at the lowest most altitudes within our huge basin. Located near Grobelarsdal and Thabazimbi respectively.
These clues, along with the water chemistry indicating karst water and C14 studies (to determine rough age of water) of these hydrothermal vents, indicate that they are indeed a part of a huge dynamic karst system, residing underneath the economically important geological structure called - The Bushveld Igneous Complex - or BIC.

That would mean that a huge plug (from differing events) of volcanic infill covers (protects) this once huge inland Achaean sea. Now a hydrological karst dynamic system called The South African Aquifer, (The SAA) of which the lateral limits have still to be identified.

Many linkages between The SAA’s northern and southern visible karst exist. I.e. a direct link through a documented geological fault system, from Mogale City JHB via Hartabeespoort dam through to Thabazimbi - Bella Bella can be demonstrated. The current decant emanating from Mogale City will ultimately saturate groundwater reserves between these points, if allowed to continue unabated.

Another interesting link to Pretoria from Bella Bella also exists. This may not be direct as in the Hartabeespoort Thabazimbi connection but it does exist. The CGS. More funding and research is required.

The entire SAA is under direct diverse pollutant threat. It has been for many decades as a result of past academic bias to the profession that makes demands of this specialisation. We have to address the globality of the destructive nature of the toxicity of this man made also natural phenomenon. For us to allow this pollution to migrate is an indictment to our intellect.

Our economy is certainly at risk here as the mineral wealth that we are so proud of, is being slowly diluted and being washed by the most important life giving geology. Karst. A unsustainable situation with disastrous effects.

A very undesirable situation. As this will lead to untold casualties from all walks of life as is happening at "Ground Zero" Mogale City at this time.

A vastly economic, detrimental phobic reaction is currently being fed by our ongoing ignorance around the KARST topic. The Government needs to establish a karst groundwater task team with unlimited funding until we can at the very least start to reverse the destruction done over the last 120 years.

Mike Buchanan March 2006

Karst images

Karst Images by Mike Buchanan
Miniopterus bats in flight

Secondary mineral deposits or cave speleothem

Cave Ecology - Miniopterus bats



Dolomite Karst

Cave formations are a small part of karst system conservation

NEW For more pictures please click on this link -
More Cave and Karst Pictures

The most important part of karst systems are  Sedimentary Geology, Groundwater, Ecology


Thiobacillus ferrooxidans stained ground

Typhoid is caused by the bacteria Salmonella Typhi, which is carried by human waste. This bacterium finds its way into natural drinking water, and this contaminated water is then consumed by people who are then exposed to this disease.

1.1 Bacterium conveyed via water, are either contaminating surface water, or groundwater. Surface water is relatively easy to manage, as accessible testing methods are able to detect the levels of bacterium, chlorine and other composites found in water. Extensive monitoring of reservoirs and sample testing at selected water points can theoretically effectively control the quality of water.

1.2 During the recent Typhoid outbreak in Delmas in Mphumalanga, human waste containing the Salmonella Typhi bacteria was found in boreholes and which led to a number of people contracting the Typhoid disease. Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) spokespeople indicated that the disease was as a result of poor management of water systems. They have committed themselves to embark on a series of inspections of municipalities where there may be concerns relating to water and the treatment of sewage.

During 2005 August, concerns were raised in Boksburg on the East Rand where the Elsburg Spruit, which also runs past Reiger Park and various informal settlement areas, is contaminated by mining waste from the East Rand Propriety (Pty) Ltd (ERPM) goldmine. This contaminated water is utilized for household consumption by residents of the informal settlement areas.

1.3 Due to a lack of services e.g. housing with proper sewage, water and refuge removal, these informal settlements inevitably contaminate the Elsburg Spruit (surface water) with human waste. Further down (as a matter of speaking) other informal settlement areas consume this contaminated water. The possibility of Typhoid outbreak is thus ever present should the water consumption not be addressed (primarily) and the settlement of informal settlement areas on the banks of the river (long term – secondarily) be given attention by the local authorities.

1.4 Bacterium that finds its way to the underground water table is spread through the ecological ground formation called karst.

Karst is a special type of landscape that is formed by the dissolution of soluble rocks, including limestone and dolomite. Karst regions contain aquifers that are capable of providing large supplies of water – more than 25% of the world’s population either lives on or obtains its water from karst aquifers. Common geological characteristics of karst regions that influence human use of its land and water resources include ground subsidence, sinkhole collapse, groundwater contamination, and predictable water supply. Gauteng is almost 70% underlayed by karst, and South Africa holds 12% of the world’s karst systems, making it the largest single repository for karst in the world.

Karst systems are facing mammoth pressures from unsustainable over-exploitation in South Africa, including pollution of groundwater and surface habitat, urban development and roads, unauthorized removal of dolomites, fossils and cave formations by public and the over-use of natural resources in the areas, including lime operations and agriculture.

Karst is the backbone of the cement industry, and hosts South Africa’s future drinking supply. Karst is also habitat to three of the most endangered small mammals, all of which are bats; bats are vital to a sustainable and healthy agriculture sector, because of their role in pollination and problem invertabrate reduction.
Source: The Internet

1.5 The East Rand, Delmas and Pretoria, are all situated on the same karst, and as disease in the form of bacterium, is easily and rapidly conveyed through karst systems due to this expansive ancient conduit drainage system, it is more than likely that the typhoid disease is slowly (although progressively) geographically en route to Pretoria.


1.1 The natural groundwater (water table underground) and surface water have played a significant role in providing natural habitat and people with natural water for survival, agricultural purposes and household consumption.

Groundwater originates from precipitation that falls in the form of rain and seeps into the ground, filling open spaces within layers of sand or formations beneath the land surface.

1.2 In South Africa, underground mining operations have caused a disturbance in the quality of the groundwater due to Mine Acid Drainage (MAD) that seeps into the groundwater during mining operations. This is even more so the case in Gauteng which houses the most extensive mining operations in South Africa. Although the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry has a water quality management program to ensure that water quality is suitable for domestic and agricultural purposes and contributes to maintaining of a health ecosystem, some of this contaminated and sometime hazardous water still find their way into streams and rivers, where human and animal and plant life are exposed to it.

1.3 Especially in Gauteng, a number of informal settlement areas have located next to natural streams and dams and catchment areas where contaminated water is eminent.

1.4 The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, who has a Water Management Function, which is extended with the establishments of Water Management Institutions, together with the nine regional offices, have made provision for policy implementation, operation, control and monitoring of water quality at an operational level.

1.5 Due to the extent and multiplicity of the management functions associated with water quality management, the Department is not considered to be the sole responsible authority of water quality management. The responsibility has shifted to include various levels of the community, industry, local government as well as individual users. It is also within this “shift in responsibility” that numerous academics and specialists believe that standards with regards to quality of water have dropped.

1.6 There are individuals and institutions that have studied the water table and groundwater levels and its composition extensively, and have come to the conclusion that Acid Rock Drainage and increasing levels of heavy metals (no, not the music ones!) have raised the contamination levels in water to such an extent that it has become hazardous for plant, animal and human consumption.

1.7 Mining water residues are polluting groundwater throughout the whole of Gauteng. Highly polluted water has been decanting into the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site for the last two years. It is estimated that forty thousand square meters of water containing heavy metals pollutes surface rivers every year. These heavy metals or sulphates contaminate groundwater almost irreversibly as a result of mining operations in Gauteng.

1.8 Around the Krugersdorp Game Park, many animals have died as a result of drinking contaminated water emanating from Acid Rock Drainage (ARD) or MAD. Even people have been diagnosed with heavy metal poisoning.

1.9 Heavy metal rich ore is transferred into the groundwater via a phoebe (bacteria), and has a long term devastated effect on health, the economy and the environment.

Contaminated water is usually the result of numerous factors, ranging from groundwater being exposed to various forms of heavy metals and harmful solids, to contamination as a result of previous mining (mine acid decant) and/or some or other form of industrial and farming activities. Over a period of time, these minute particles are transported via an underground ecological system (e.g. dolomite and dynamic karst systems) and find their way into water utilized for every day consumption.

1.1 Geohydrologist’s and Geophysicists have proved that the threat to agriculture is more serious than anticipated by governing bodies such as The Department of Water and Forestry (DWAF). Any cattle living on the emanating decant will carry a diverse range of heavy metal poisoning’s, including that of Thorium and Uranium. Their reproduction and fetal deaths are reported to be the biggest concern.

1.2 Some vegetables absorb heavy metals along with other usually undesirable pathogens (the biological agent that causes disease or illness to its host).
In numerous informal settlements, vegetables are grown close to rivers and streams, such as the case in Tokyo and Slovo informal settlements close to Reiger Park on the East Rand (Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality). As a result of poor living conditions and virtually non-existent service delivery in terms of water and sanitation, the Elsburg Spruit is contaminated by human waste. The same contaminated water is utilized for the vegetation, which is logically absorbed by the vegetables and thus relayed to human health systems.

1.3 Besides the vegetables itself, farming equipments’ life expectancy is likely to decrease as a result of the corrosive irrigant on farming fields. This will also have a direct effect on borehole quality. Although no know study has been made on the long term effect this will have on productivity and cost effectiveness of capital enriched equipment, it seems obvious that long term farming is expected to drop as a result of diminishing soil quality as a result of exposure to contaminated water.

1.4 The farm labourers exposed to the contaminated water and soil and vegetation on a permanent basis, pose the threat of contracting heavy metals poisoning. Environmentalists believe that that this scenario already exists, albeit subtle, and the situation is made much more complex as it is difficult to quantify the current situation, although enough evidence exists that prove the current threat.

Under normal circumstances, the path that a patient diagnosed with heavy metals poisoning will be a long painful one with serious implications to heath care provision services (e.g. medical aids) and personal or government budgets. The average medical practitioner would thus hardly ever expect a patient to suffer from heavy metals poisoning of this nature. It is therefore imperative to involve the Department of Health in a combined effort to address the issue of heavy metals poisoning in humans.

1.5 It has previously been mentioned that the Krugersdorp Game Reserve and various agricultural industries in the geographical surrounding areas face immanent closure due to declining quality of available groundwater and soil. The area also caters for the Cradle of Humankind (COH) World Heritage Site (WHS), which is under serious threat due to this harmful hydrology. It is believed that South Africa will loose the WHS as a direct result of poor management of the groundwater by all the authorities involved.

1.6 Another source of the contamination is historical mining activities. As pointed out in previous reports, mining activities all over Gauteng has contaminated natural water supply in the form of acid decant. Harmony Gold Mine to the west of Gauteng has cleaned up their site and effectively changed the hydrology. The East Rand Propriety Mine (Pty) Ltd (ERPM) was supposed to have utilized a government grant to sufficiently “clean” groundwater, but failed to do so. Environmentalists have complained to the DWAF and provincial government, but without any remediatory response. (The matter of contaminated groundwater caused by ERPM was covered in the media during 2005.) In Ekurhuleni various informal settlements is exposed to this contaminated groundwater (as mentioned above).

1.7 The mining industry seems to acknowledge the fact that the dolomite (on which most of Gauteng is situated) or underground karst systems are not compartmentalized and that all the surrounding areas are interlinked through an ancient flow paths. This only emphasizes the complexity of the issue of contaminated groundwater and its vast effects on all areas in Gauteng and on all animal, plant and human life.


2.1 The DWAF and the Rand Water (RW) have indicated that they intend to upgrade the current water system in Delmas. A media report (Beeld 2006/05/23) indicates that the upgrade will cost ±R100 million. This is primarily done as a direct result of the recent outbreak of typhoid fever which cost five people their lives and hundreds fell sick, and secondarily because the water system is apparently outdated. A strong borehole is to be sunk and linked to the town’s reservoir. Hydrologists and environmentalists believe that a new water utilization system would not address the origin of the contaminated water, and will thus have no impact on water quality.

2.2 Harmony Gold Mine has been forced to assist three closed-down mines in the North West Province (Stilfontein, Buffelsfontein and Hartebeesfontein) to pump and treat underground water supply, even though these mines do not belong to Harmony (Beeld 2006/05/30). This proves that the underground water system situated on a dynamic dolomite (karst) system is so inter-linked that no single province can function independently, and there was argued that the contaminated water from one mine (even though it was closed-down) can be “transported” to another mine and result in loss of life in current operational mines.

2.3 The International Union of Conservation Nations (IUCN SA) held a Karst Working Group (KWG) meeting during January 2006 whereby the issue of “impacts of agriculture and mining on the water resources and water-based ecosystem of the COHWHS” was discussed. This emphasizes the fact that the management of water quality at the COHWHS as incorporated in the Blue IQ Projects, is a great concern that needs continuous attention from a wide variety of authorities.