The Constitutional Court dismissed an appeal, brought by Gauteng water utility Rand Water, against an order of the Pretoria High Court preventing the disconnection of the piped water supply to the Blyvooruitzicht mining village, a distressed mining community of about 6 000 people located west of Johannesburg.
Nonprofit Lawyers for Human Rights on Friday welcomed the Constitutional Court’s decision, handed down three weeks ago, noting that the order also set out requirements for engagement with the Blyvooruitzicht community by relevant stakeholders, including the Merafong municipality and Rand Water.
“Access to water is fundamental in our lives. As a human being, you cannot live without water and the Constitutional Court has restored our hope and our sense of dignity,” said community resident Pule Molefe.
The order ends the multiyear struggle by the community, represented by Lawyers for Human Rights, to retain access to water after the Blyvooruitzicht gold mine initiated liquidation proceedings in 2013.
The company’s sudden departure from the site meant that many of its environmental and socioeconomic closure obligations went unfulfilled. As a result, the community’s access to basic services – previously provided by the mine – was threatened.
“This outcome represents an important step in recognising the right of mine-hosting communities to survival, even after the closure of major mining operations in their area,” said Lawyers for Human Rights environmental rights programme head Michael Clements.
“We will work to ensure that this creates the impetus for local government, and other stakeholders, to undertake the urgent efforts necessary to secure the future of this community.”
This case also reflects a broader, more systemic problem regarding the sustainability of mine hosting communities in the aftermath of mine closure, he added.
“Given the proliferation of mines reaching the end of their economic lives today in South Africa, the experience of the Blyvooruitzicht residents must serve as a warning to government and industry of the importance of planning for proper mine closure, from a socioeconomic and environmental perspective,” he concluded.