Gold mining in South Africa has a large impact on the environment, the economy and social structure in South Africa. The environmental impact of gold mining on the environment includes water, air and noise pollution. The mining industry in South Africa is one of the largest in the world. It provides jobs for hundreds of thousands of people in the mining industry alone. The mining industry also indirectly provides jobs for about 400 000 with the goods and services that the mines require to run successfully.
Some of the typical impacts that mining in South Africa has on the environment are that it can lead to a loss of biodiversity because of a transformation in the natural habitats and ecosystems. The mining industry also usually requires large amounts of water. Surface and groundwater pollution often happen due to the acid mine drainage.
Greenhouse gasses that are released into the air when mining are harmful to the environment and the release of dust particulates negatively affect the ecosystems around the mines. As well as the air pollution there is usually a large amount of noise. In Gauteng large scale mining has caused the dolomite rock to cave in which has resulted in large sinkholes forming and earthquakes.
One of the biggest problems with gold mining in South Africa is the disposal of the overburden from the mines. Another problem is the use and disposal of the cyanide solutions which are used to extract and dissolve the gold. Cyanide is a well known poison and is very toxic for humans. Cyanide is also very dangerous to plants and animals as even small amounts of cyanide can be dangerous to them. To produce just one single fine ounce (about 31,104 g) they need about 3.3 tons of ore, 5440 litres of water, 572 kilowatt hours electricity, 12 cubic metres of compressed air, a large amount of dynamite and plenty of chemicals.
The environmental damage a mine causes lasts for a long time, even after the mine has been closed for long the effects can still be seen for example the places where rock has been dumped, the tailings (the material that is left over after the valuable part of the ore from the worthless part.) dams, and the old shafts that have not been removed are likely to have long-term effects. Other side effects of mining such polluted water and solid waste can continue damaging the environment long after the mine has been shut down. Mining can also cause the loss of productive land, air pollution from harmful chemicals released into the air as well as general safety risks that are associated with mining. It can also negatively affect the people living in settlements near the mines.
As harmful as gold mining is to everything and everyone around it, it is very important for the economy. South Africa has a large amount of mineral resources and is one of the leading countries when it comes to exporting raw materials. Gold is one of the biggest raw material exports and it makes up a third of all of South Africa’s exports.