Pretoria - A team of experts is expected to assess the extent of acid mine drainage in the country and report back to an inter-ministerial committee appointed by Minister of Water Affairs Bulelwa Sonjica.
Cabinet last month mandated the minister to urgently establish a special task team to investigate how government can best deal with reports of acid water drainage in some provinces.
Acid mine water, or water contaminated with heavy metals as a result of mining activities, is affecting the Gauteng, Mpumalanga, North West and the Free State provinces. Reports suggest that this drainage could result in serious health and economic risks for the provinces and the country.
Speaking in Cape Town on Monday, Sonjica said the experts will appraise the risk and look at what has already been done by various institutions and then assess available solutions and technology.
"They will interrogate and assess viability costs of critical short-term interventions, integrate lasting and sustainable medium- and long-term solutions and explore possible partnerships with private sector," Sonjica said.
The ministerial committee will reconvene in six weeks time to receive a detailed report from the team of experts covering a reappraisal of the risks and assessment of what has been done as well as the viability and costs critical short term intervention.
Responding to media reports that the streets in Johannesburg's CBD will be flooded with toxic mine water in the coming months, Sonjica assured the public that the situation was under control and there was no need for people to panic.
As a short term measure an amount of R218 million has been budgeted by the department to fit the pumps and avert the situation.
The minister said the country has been faced with the problem of mine water effluent, including acid mine drainage, for over 100 years when mining began. At the time, no legislative measures were in place and environmental considerations were not prioritized.
Over the past 15 years, government has strengthened environmental regulation through the introduction of National Environmental Management Act, Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act and the National Water Act.
She said a major challenge for government was to find the perpetrators, naming the gold and coal mines as major culprits.