The Sowetan (24/07/07, p.4) published a story titled “Lives at risk as mines coin it: State knew about danger for 40 years,” about exposed toxic wastes which allegedly endanger millions of people in Gauteng and the North West Province. This article is one to be glad of as it is educational, includes the views of children, and covers a topic which does not receive as much attention as it could do; the environment.
The article reveals how the toxic wastes, coming from gold mines in the Witwatersrand, are suspected to be behind the trail of cancer, kidney diseases and deaths in the Gauteng and North West provinces. National, provincial, local, as well as the department in charge of environmental affairs, are said to have known about this since the 1960s. This is significant as the Department of Minerals and Energy, Water Affairs and Environment has a duty to ensure an environmentally friendly zone for everyone and to inform the public of the dangers of living in an unfriendly zone. According to the report, there have been no warning signs to advise the community that the area is environmentally unsafe, neither is there a fence to keep them and their livestock away from the area, as is required by law. The paper should be commended for bringing the Department’s failure to comply with the laws to the fore. .
Although the environmental disaster affects everyone in these communities, rich and poor alike, the vulnerable in society – the children – are the worst affected in this case. The article pictured kids playing in what looks like a mine dump, oblivious of the danger around them. The children were interviewed as to whether they were aware of the possible dangers of toxic waste, The Sowetan sourced the children, which shows good journalistic practice. The picture of the children was not merely used to jolt the responsible authorities into action; the children’s interviews highlighted the fact that authorities are somewhat negligent in their jobs, specifically in informing the community about the environmental hazards in their midst. .
The report is informative and insightful as it identifies the kind of health problems that people who are exposed to toxic chemicals are prone to. Further, it challenges the authorities to act. .
The Sowetan should be applauded for looking at environmental issues as most papers do not cover much environmental stories, and more importantly, the impacts of such hazards on children. .