Former Aurora directors are finally facing the music for allegedly pillaging Grootvlei mine, near Springs, leading to thousands of job losses and uncontrolled acid mine drainage into the Blesbokspruit, which drains into the Vaal River.
Three former Aurora directors, Khulubuse Zuma, Zondwa Mandela and Thulani Ngubane, appeared in the Springs Regional Court yesterday on five counts related to environmental and water transgressions at the mine. The state was granted a postponement to July to allow the defence access to the docket and for the state to trace the fourth director, Rajah Alan Shah.
A decision is also still awaited from the Gauteng provincial director of public prosecutions on whether the case should proceed against the three accused.
They were charged for transgressing the National Water Act by failing to treat underground water before releasing it into the Blesbokspruit, which feeds into the Marievale wetland and, ultimately, the Vaal River. If found guilty, the directors could be liable for a fine or a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years, or both.
Acid mine drainage contains high concentrations of metals, sulphides and salts, and can cause an environmental disaster as it adversely affects surrounding ecosystems, polluting surface and groundwater and eventually the soil.
While Grootvlei was under Aurora’s control, according to the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), the East Rand was teetering on the brink of an environmental disaster as the toxic water could have contaminated the groundwater.
Outa legal officer advocate Stefanie Fick said the presumption was that the prosecution would lean on, among other legal provisions, section 151 of the National Water Act. This section criminalises non – compliance with water licence conditions.
“In terms of the provision and considering that this may be the Aurora directors’ first conviction on this charge, they may be liable for a fine or be sentenced to a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years, or to both a fine and imprisonment,” she said.
Water and environment portfolio manager at Outa Yamkela Ntola said the decision to prosecute was taken following two years of engagement between Outa and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). He said Outa had expressed disappointment at the delay and hinted at its appetite to privately prosecute the matter.
Ntola said, however, they were hopeful that under new NPA boss Shamila Batohi the successful prosecution of Aurora’s directors would demonstrate the prosecuting body’s resolve to restore public confidence in its ability to execute its mandate without fear or favour.
Alleged mismanagement and looting collapsed the mine, leaving 5,300 mineworkers without jobs. Khulubuse is former president Jacob Zuma’s nephew while Zondwa is the grandson of the country’s first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela. Zuma and Mandela gained control of Pamodzi Gold Ltd through Aurora in 2009 when its previous owner was placed under provisional liquidation. – firstname.lastname@example.org