Uranium Mining on the Plains of The Camdeboo

 

We are living in strangely intense times: times of extreme polarity of opinion and moral and ethical beliefs. We see merciless greed from corporate and political power seekers versus selfless heroic sacrifice from earth keepers trying to defend the last of what is left. There are sharp contrasts of attitude towards our environment and “ natural resources” whether they be our common ground- a National park mountain or the ocean and beaches,  a river or lake, or a farm in the desert where the mineral rights  which lie beneath grazing sheep are still waiting to be had.

There is a new wave of colonialism taking place in Africa and it is taking many forms. “Right now, a small “uranium rush” is on.” Writes Dr. Stefan Cramer, science advisor to SAFCEI,   “Every fly-by –night wants to get a slice of the cake, often under questionable circumstances… in these days of “mineral grabbing” all you need is a letter head and good connections to lay your hands on the mineral wealth of this country.” He points out that many unknown companies with names like “ Wealhage House of Capital”- run by a 26 year old entrepreneur from Limpopo, and “Blue Moon Mining” are applying for uranium rights, and “it doesn’t cost a dime to include uranium in an application.

This comes at a time when small-scale family farms in the Karoo are especially vulnerable. The economic climate and the impossible task of competing with large-scale industrialized agriculture in the market place. It also comes at a time of incredible ecological challenge as the ravages of climate change batter an already fragile ecosystem.  Yet somebody has opened the fences and let the scavengers in to dig up what is left of a very special ecosystem in a place where life has thrived and adapted to all kinds of challenges for millions of years.

Applications for Uranium mining have been made in area’s from Beaufort West to Aberdeen, Jansenville to Wolwerfontein, Kliplaaat to Steytlerville. Area’s where topsoil has been so badly damaged by overgrazing, drought, dust storms and occasional flooding, thus making farmers more vulnerable to selling and giving up.

Yet, if Uranium mining is allowed to take place  on a far away farm in a place many consider to be the middle of nowhere, there will be no reversing the consequences.  As we know, everything is connected. Think of the river carrying uranium tailings and it’s path to the sea. Think of the dust storms blowing across the Plains of the Cambdeboo. It is said that even one particle of uranium dust in the lung and you could cause lung cancer.

I am the daughter of a fourth generation Karoo farmer. My father Robert and grandfather Roland Kingwill taught me the importance of topsoil. I grew up with the extreme winds of the Karoo, which blow dust devils around in the drought, tore trees out by the roots, the wind even tore off the roof of our varanda once. As a child I went with my father and watched him worry about the sheep who walked like skeletons.  I was with him one day when we found the mud caked body of one who had not made it out of the sticky last puddle of water in the middle of the dried out dam. Life is tough and death is one of the seasons we face when we live close to the earth

I have also seen floods, the roar of rain, when the water runs quickly over bare earth and becomes a thundering river that carves deep gorges into the landscape, bends iron fence posts and washes away trees and cattle to the next farm and beyond. These experiences have made me understand the power of nature, and I have seen with my own eyes the way that landscapes are not stable. They constantly change even in the most ancient and supposedly “geologically stable” landscapes as the elements shift them. Nothing can be taken for granted. “Continents drift at the rate of the growth of our fingernails,” a well- known palaeontologist once told me. So it seems logical that no pile of Uranium tailings or nuclear waste dug into the earth  of  is really safely hidden and contained. Ever.

IMG_4577

While doing research for my documentary “Buried in Earthskin”, I learned that Uranium is the most toxic substance we could possibly dig out of the earth. Taking it out is like opening Pandora’s box. It unleashes its’ evils into the world and that powerful wild energy can never be put safely can never be put back in. This is why I found it very ironic and worrying when the minister of Minerals and Energy told me in an interview with a sweet smile, that “Nuclear energy is clean energy.”

Many forget that Nuclear is powered by a very treacherous fossil fuel: uranium and the nuclear fuel chain results in radioactive waste, which is an international long-standing unsolved problem. No safe storage solution has been found. The by-products of this industry are used in weapons of mass destruction. Some countries secretely disguise  nuclear waste as artillery  in the secret madness of warfare and propell it to other countries. Little is told of the radioactive weapons and discarded bomb shells which are left scattered all over war-torn lands where it is used for weapons that roll into the houses of innocent children who pick them up and play with them, thinking they could be toys. The implications are so terrible that nobody in civilized society really wants to know about them, so they are buried under a carpet of unconsciousness along with rest of the nuclear waste problem. There is nothing clean about nuclear energy – it is a darker shade of dirty than coal.

Uranium is best left in the ground where it belongs: making it’s own powerful magic beneath the crust. It has its own purpose there. I believe our creator provided other means of creating energy like sun and wind. We are free to harness those if we so wish.

Nieu Bethesda-boy on horse on footbridge

A Karoo boy on his horse crossing a footbridge in Nieu Bethesda- Karoo.

It is interesting that all over the world the people who have been the most common victims of Uranium mining are the tribal descendents earth’s First Peoples. Ironically it is these people who live close to the earth and truly understand and revere their environment who have been made most ill by it due to the fact that they were not informed of the toxic consequences of Uranium mining on their environment.The most outspoken of these are the Navajo tribe in America.

When Uranium mining began in the Navajo reservation. It was one of the poorest communities in America. They were probably promised jobs and other perks. This community is now even poorer because they have lost their health as well. The men were used as workers. They were not given adequate protection against the harmful yellow cake dust. The water sources and wells were contaminated with this dust and the wives and grandmothers drawing water from their traditional wells in their sacred land were not informed.   When the mine closed, it was not properly sealed or cleaned up. The results have been legacies of terrible cancers and a degenerative disease called Navajo Neuropathy- which causes a wasting away of muscle. Children are born with severe deformities, which affect them and their families for the rest of their lives. These are massive life-changing environmental impacts. (I wonder if they are considered in the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA’s) being conducted in the Karoo.) Stories have been told of families who discovered that their houses had been built with bricks made and cement, which contained radioactive tailings near mines. Chronic illness and cancer resulted, families left in ruin. As one Navajo woman profoundly states: “Money can buy you lots of things, but it can’t buy you a new pair of lungs. This is an echo of the famous letter written by Chief Seattle to the President more than 100 years ago: “When the last river is gone… then will you realize that you can’t eat money?”  His words hold more power today than ever as we see the how the myth of materialism creates the kind of madness that makes men destroy their only natural resources.  One day when it is too late, then will we realize that our natural resources are our only true wealth.

Tribal communities all over the world have learned this lesson over and over again through history as they bartered their natural resources: their fish, their, forrests, their elephants, their rhino’s their rivers, their lakes and their land for a few trinkets and promises of gold. The new colonialists are still making their tricky deals and the natives are still falling for the promises of an easier life with more money, more shiny stuff, the colonialists are of all races and the victims are too.

This story is being played out over and over again in poor uninformed communities around Africa as it has in the past it continues to repeat itself.  It is time to learn from our mistakes. If nothing is done to stop it, it will be happening in poor farming communities near Beaufort West and Aberdeen in the Great Karoo, as well as Namaqualand, South Africa. Again the people most affected will be the descendents earth’s First Peoples – the Nama and the Khoi San.

In this age of information overload and complacency, it is easy to remain passive and overwhelmed, but it is a fact that if good men do nothing-  evil is given permission to reign. We see blatant examples of this lesson over and over again.   It is time to stand up and act or it will be too late, and we will all be left with regrets because if any of this goes ahead, the world will look very different.

This notice has just arrived in my inbox for public comment:

PROPONENT: Tasman Lukisa JV Company (Pty) Ltd

PROJECT: Mining right for Uranium and Molybdenum

DISTRICT OF: Aberdeen

EC 30/5/1/2/2/10029 MR: Bokvlei 78 Ptn 1(RE), 2; De Pannen 79 Ptn 1, RE; Kareepoort 80 Ptn 1,2; Oorlogspoort 85 RE; Klein Tavel Kop 163 RE.

The draft Environmental Impact Assessment and Environmental Management Programme report (EIA/EMPr) will be available for comment from 10 March – 18 April 2017.

A public meeting regarding the above is scheduled for 23 March 2017 at 17h00 in the Library Hall, Andries Pretorius street, Aberdeen. Hard copies and soft copies on CD will also be made available in the Beaufort West Library, Agri-Central Karoo (BKB, Beaufort West), the Rustdene Community Hall office, the Youth Hub Office, Aberdeen & Rietbron Municipal Offices and the Rooidam Farm Stall.

PROPONENTS: Tasman Lukisa JV Company (Pty) Ltd & Tasman Pacific Minerals (Ltd)

PROJECTS: Mining right for Uranium and Molybdenum

DISTRICT OF: Beaufort West

WC30/5/1/2/2/10085MR: Haane Kuil   335 Ptn 1 (RE), 4, 7, RE; Nieuw Jaars Fontein 340 Ptn 1, Farm 394 Ptn RE, Eerste Water 349 Ptn 1 (RE), 3 (RE), 4; Ryst Kuil 351 Ptn 2, RE; Vlak Plaats 350 Ptn 1; Klip Stavels 361 Ptn 2; Kat Doorn Kuil 359 Ptn RE; Kant Kraal 360 Ptn RE; Klip Stavels 361 Ptn RE; Klipgat 362 Ptn RE.

WC30/5/1/2/2/10086MR: Oude Volks Kraal 164 Ptn RE, Quaggas Fontein 166 Ptn RE, Oude Volks Kraal 164 Ptn 3, Blaauw Bosch Kuil 165 Ptn RE.

The identified NEMA listed activities for the above applications have been amended and therefore Scoping Report addendums will be available for review from 10 March – 13 April 2017;The final submission dates for the EIA/EMPr’s for these applications has been extended to 31 July 2017.

Land owners, lawful occupants and interested and/or affected parties are given the opportunity to access the above mentioned documentation and to give comments as indicated above. Document copies available for review at: Project Dropbox:https://www.dropbox.com/sh/gkp2geha5vj89at/AAAUQQivzJ6BE4-X175D6MuUa?dl=0. Hard copies and soft copies on CD will also be made available in the Beaufort West Library, Agri-Central Karoo (BKB, Beaufort West), the Rustdene Community Hall office, the Kwa-Mandlenkosi Youth Hub office and Beaufort West Municipal offices.

Kind Regards

Erika van der Linde

Ferret Mining and Environmental Services Pty Ltd

P.O. Box 72313

Lynnwood Ridge

0040

 Office number (+27)12 753 1285Mobile number (+27)83 441 0239Fax number 086 716 5576

Ferret Mining and Environmental Services (Pty) Ltd.erika@ferretmining.co.za and/or tim@ferretmining.co.za Tel: 012 753 1285.

All I know is that there is very little resistance to this. A handful of Karoo farmers living in the area and a few members of the communities in surrounding towns are aware of the dangers and are doing their best to protect themselves, but they need every little help they can get. If as a reader, you are in a position to write to the mining company above or comment on the EIA. Please do. You will be helping a lot.

No matter what our attitude of land ownership is, one logical truth prevails:  we are more transient than the earth, and in our lifetimes we a mere custodians of the land and sea, these things are millions of years older than us. We hope they will continue to exist millions of years into the future.  Yet what may have taken millions of years to create can be destroyed in one generation of very bad management.  If we are here to witness it, future generations will always blame us for doing nothing and causing their pain.

Here are some links to video stories told by the Navajo.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkFtCmG9pcQ Poison wind

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srVjPp1TwdA   The Yellow monster

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APwUDx3mZ70 Investigation into Navajo living conditions: America Now

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