ope Francis has often emphasised that water is God’s precious treasure to humanity and should, therefore, be protected.
Bishop Abel Gabuza of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference’s Justice and Peace Commission (J&P) has called on the new minister of mineral resources to prioritise environmental challenges associated with mining, especially the protection of water against the pursuit of short-term economic gains in the mining industry.
Addressing department of mineral resources head Gwede Mantashe, Bishop Gabuza urged the department to take an active and decisive role in addressing the environmental challenges associated with the extractive industry, especially issues of mine water-management.
As Mr Mantashe took office, J&P appealed to him to exercise his discretion under Section 49 of the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act to prohibit the granting of any prospecting and mining rights in designated water-catchment areas and other areas of critical biodiversity importance.
Applications for mining and prospecting have, for example, been authorised for the Marico River catchment, which provides water to thousands of people in the country.
J&P is deeply concerned about the irreversible environmental consequences of such practices, which are often undertaken in favour of short-term economic returns.
Bishop Gabuza said that in a country which is now struggling with severe drought and other climate change problems, it is ethically irresponsible not to consider mining and other activities which have the potential to negatively affect the country’s water and food-security systems.
J&P also asked Mr Mantashe to work with other departments to close policy and enforcement gaps in relation to mine closures, especially in the coal and gold mines, which have significant water issues.
Decisive action is required to stop companies that offload and sell off marginal mines to small companies during the end of a mine’s life as an integral part of their closure strategies.
“The water crisis in Western Cape should send a warning both to the government and ourselves and our families that we need critical action to save and protect water as a scarce resource and as God’s precious gift to our nation,” Bishop Gabuza said.