South Africa: Newcastle Residents Say Coal Mine Puts Them in Danger

Residents of Blaauwbosch village in Newcastle, who live near an old coal mine where informal mining takes place, say they are fed up with empty promises by government and local politicians. They want to be moved elsewhere.

The residents say the walls of their houses are cracking because of the informal -- and illegal -- mining activity. Over 50 households are affected.

Mzamo High School, which was near the mine, was relocated by KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education at a cost of R37 million and re-opened in February 2017. Residents say they have been left behind.

"Many promises have been made to us, and we are now fed up," said resident Msi Mavuso. "We are still living under dangerous conditions. Our houses are so cracked, they can fall in at any moment."

"For years we have been promised by the local authorities that we would be moved to a safe place, but nothing has been done," he said.

"Some have managed to move to other safe places and rebuilt their homes, but not all of us can afford that because most of us are unemployed and struggling to make ends meet in this village," said Mavuso.

As far as GroundUp can tell, people in the area discovered the coal in the 1980s and digging has been taking place at this site since then. But we cannot confirm this.

Elderly resident Vusi Manana said, "Illegal coal diggers risk their lives everyday for coal digging to eke out a living because of a high rate of unemployment in this area. No one will stop them; even the government departments have failed. They won't stop digging. What we are asking for as residents ... is to be moved to a safe place."

Manana said, "In every election campaign the politicians come here and make promises to us that we would be moved from this area, but after elections they never come back. They did the same even in this year's election campaigns."

Kaizer Mbuli, one of hundreds of informal coal diggers, said: "I have been doing this since I was a young boy. We know that what we are doing is illegal, but we have no choice. This is our livelihood. We support our families." He has two children.

The informal miners also dig up different types of soil, mix them together and make bricks. They dig the coal in order to bake the bricks.

Nothando Dub, spokesperson for Sisonke Environmental Justice Network, a community organisation based in Newcastle, said that it has "inspected the living conditions of the residents of Blaauwbosch living near the coal mine" and taken the matter up with the Department of Mineral Resources.

Ward 18 Councillor Dolly Mnguni said that a housing project will start later this year and there are plans to move the residents living near the coal mine.

The Department of Mineral Resources said that it inspected the site and intends to rehabilitate it, but that officials from the department have been prevented from entering the area. "The department will continue to try and gain access to the area and work with the provincial government to find sustainable solutions for the affected households."

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