For over seven decades, South Africa’s Blyvooruitzicht Gold Mine operated as one of the metals and other commodities over its life. The Blyvooruitzicht Mine Village grew up around this operation: a thriving, relatively integrated community of Mine employees, their families, schools, health clinics, churches, playgrounds and meeting spaces. As in many mining towns in South Africa, the Mine provided access to all basic services, including water, sanitation, rubbish collection, and security, despite that these are the legal responsibility of the state. In August 2013, however, the Mine abruptly initiated insolvency proceedings. Overnight, operations stopped, thousands lost their jobs, and environmental mitigation measures ceased entirely. Residents’ continued access to basic services and their homes was threatened, and an adequate standard of living for the area collapsed.
Today, the Village of some 6 000 exists on the edge of the defunct Mine. Residents battle health continued access to water and sanitation. They face continual uncertainty about their ability to remain in their homes. Grinding poverty is rampant. Industry and government stakeholders acknowledge that the Village is in crisis, but residents’ ability to obtain relevant information and participate in directing their futures remains nearly impossible.
The catastrophe at Blyvooruitzicht is the result of a toxic cocktail involving private sector abdication of responsibility, an inadequate legislative framework and state enforcement effort, and an underestimation on the part of all role players in anticipating the scope and severity of the impacts of a sudden liquidation of a major mining operation. The surrounding community has borne the brunt of this systemic failure.
The plight of the Village residents may also be a harbinger of a much greater and more widespread crisis to come, as the country’s largest gold and platinum mining districts enter the twilight of their multidecade lives. If the experience of these individuals is a template for the scores of other South African mining communities, the next decade will give rise to a crisis on a much wider scale. More broadly, the Blyvooruitzicht story is an important warning to mining-based economies across the continent.
This report was researched and written by Lawyers for Human Rights (an FIDH member organization), together with the Blyvooruitzicht Village residents and with the support of FIDH. It focuses on the description and analysis of the broad impacts on the Village of the collapse of the Mine, and in particular on the residents’ rights to development, to an environment not harmful to their health or well-being, and to adequate housing.
Download the full report here.