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Oxpeckers Associate Wins Top Environmental Media Award for #MineAlert Project

Pioneering data journalism project on financial provisions for mine closures and rehabilitation is rewarded with top environmental media award.

Two years of chasing data on mine closures across South Africa were rewarded when Oxpeckers Associate Mark Olalde won the Written Media category of the prestigious annual SAB EnviroMedia Awards on October 24 2017.

Olalde spent 21 months pestering government departments for information, formally submitting requests under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) and travelling from pillar to post to secure and analyse the data for #MineAlert, Oxpeckers’ mine-tracking mobile website and app.

“For the first half of 2017, Thursday mornings were for sitting in the office with a cup of freeze-dried, instant coffee,” Olalde recalls. “Its taste might’ve been lacking, but it got the job done. #PAIAday, as I called this weekly ritual, was my method for prying as much formerly secret information as possible from the country’s Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) into the public domain. Between sips of coffee, I would call/email/pester every provincial DMR office on my list for the week. I wanted their documents.

“I had my eyes on two main targets: closure certificates and financial provisions for rehabilitation.”

Olalde then compiled, curated and analysed the datasets to produce a series of investigations on mine closure trust funds, financial provisions for rehabilitation and closure certificates, starting with “Mine Closures: What’s happening in your backyard?”. This multimedia investigation saw him travel to mining company premises such as Mintails Mining South Africa to complement the data investigation with on-the-ground research and interviews.

The information he sourced via PAIA showed, for example, that between July 2012 and July 2015 (the period covered by the requests), zero closure certificates were granted to mining rights held in Gauteng.

The second investigation, “Coal Mines leave a legacy of ruin”, indicated that since at least 2011 no large coal mines operating in South Africa had been granted closure. This means the mines have not been rehabilitated and are simply abandoned, leaving a legacy of local and global pollution.

The third and final investigation exposed the R60-billion sitting in mine rehabilitation funds across South Africa for mines that might never be closed. This investigation exposed “a failed system of mine closure in which there is little oversight, large mining houses carry the brunt of responsibility for financial provisions that are never used and mines that are never fully closed”.

Read the full press release from Oxpeckers to hear more from Olalde about the award.