Special Report

Joburg ground zero: Illegal mining puts city on brink of disaster

World Cup stadium and other landmarks at risk as illegal miners tunnel under city close to fuel and gas pipes, raising danger of buildings collapsing and deadly explosions

25 November 2018 - 00:07 By GRAEME HOSKEN

Illegal miners have brought Johannesburg, SA's biggest city, to the brink of an unprecedented disaster - and the government has shrugged off calls by city officials to step in and avert potential catastrophe.
Transnet and Sasol have sounded the alarm that zama zamas are blasting to within metres of highly flammable gas and fuel lines under Johannesburg.
Should one of those lines be damaged, experts say, everything within a 300m radius will be "incinerated".
Key parts of the city are also under threat of collapse due to the 140km labyrinth of new and existing tunnels that illegal miners are digging or blasting beneath the city.
These include the M1 double-decker highway and the M2, sections of Soweto and the 94,000-seat FNB Stadium.
"The city faces a disaster beyond imagination," said Johannesburg's Infrastructure Protection Unit head Conel Mackay, who sits on the Gauteng Illegal Mining Stakeholders Forum. He told Sunday Times this week: "If there is a rupture at FNB Stadium, which has gas pipelines running past it, it and the homes around it are gone.
"Transnet pipeline inspectors have found several near misses, especially in Florida and Riverlea. In some places miners were 30cm from striking the pipes. Miners are using explosives near the Langlaagte fuel depot."

The national government appears to have done little to address the issue.
Over the past year, Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba has sent several letters to the national departments of mineral resources (DMR) and co-operative governance & traditional affairs (Cogta), highlighting the crisis. He said they have not responded.
Several meetings have been held with provincial Cogta officials, but no plan has been discussed.
The pipelines provide SA's economic hub with petrol, diesel and oil from Durban and gas from Mozambique.
"God forbid something happens because the disaster management teams will stand no chance in trying to control it," said Mashaba.
He and his officials were alerted to the situation last year by Transnet and Sasol. The city activated technical task teams and disaster management, and alerted the DMR and Cogta because "the city does not have the competency to deal with illegal mining activities or the disasters they create".
"For a year we have pleaded for assistance and asked for plans on what is being done to mitigate this looming catastrophe, but we have been ignored," Mashaba said.
"It is not if a disaster will strike, but when. Johannesburg is a ticking time bomb. The disaster zones are massive. Our officials can seize explosives and confiscate gold, but they don't have skills to stop illegal mining."
He said if the government did not act, the city will approach the courts to compel it to...

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