(The following information is part of my own view, and not necessarily of the Umgeni Estuary Conservancy)

“Survival is a privilege which entails obligations”, from ‘Justice not Vengeance’, Simon Wiesenthal, 1989

I write like this, for I come from four generations of mining engineers, from Scotland and Norway, across to Germany, then to Canada and the United States, then to Zimbabwe. This is just about a 380 degree turn.  How much environmental management did my ancestors do, I do not know, but I can only guess, probably little, as the awareness was not around. There were only jobs and families and profit. They did not have to worry about EIAs’. Eventhough the impacts of mining sometimes can be seen only over the long term. But, my grandfather was an extremely clever person and had he been alive today, he would be at the forefront of any conservation measure, to do with mining.

In Native American or 1st Nation tradition, there is a link between people and nature.  All are interconnected. It is a natural bio-diversity pattern. The stones and trees can hear, see and act. Animals possess consciousness. I suppose one could call this an animistic tradition. 

When most of the European immigrants to the ‘New World’ arrived (these were also some of my ancestors too! and my family went from Virginia, to Tennessee (Good ole Southerners), to Texas, after the Civil War and then to California, where one side met up with the other. They saw much economic opportunities. Many of them came from situations of hardship. The efforts by the Native Americans to conserve their land were minimized, as much environmental degradation took place. At the end of the 20th Century, 98% of the natural ecosystems that these ‘Settlers from the Old World’ had initially seen had either being destroyed or altered. The two cultures clashed in their use for America’s natural heritage, because both have very different relationships with their environment. Native Americans say that nature is synonymous with cultural resources and to degrade one is to destroy the other. In Ojibwe culture, water has a spiritual component that gives it a lot of meaning in daily life. One meaning, is that water’s life-force was symbolized by its’ rush from the mother preceding birth. 

Aldo Leopold was born in 1887. He was an American author and ecologist and he wanted the development of a “Land Ethic” to go further. Conservation is not an easy solution, but we have made it trivial, by our conduct. To change how people in general, see the environment, is to change yourself, change your ethics, your loyalty and convictions. A “Water Ethic” recognizes the importance of protecting pure water for the health of the biotic community. It becomes a Native American Ethic when it prioritizes long-term conservation of water resources over short-term economic benefits. According to Leopold, an individual’s instincts within a community, prompt him to compete for a place within that community, but his ethics prompt him to co-operate. The “Land Ethic” enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals or the land. 

In 1854, a treaty created reservations for most of the Ojibwe (Chippewa). In a place called Rice-Lake in Wisconsin, it took eighty-five years before the Federal Government purchased this land around the Lake as a permanent home for them. This was to give the ‘Sokaogon’ exclusive control and access to the lake and its resources that were so important to their identity.  In the case, of a ‘Proposed Crandon Mine’ in the headlands of the Rice-Lake district wetlands, for extraction of sulphide ore (pyrite), it took the Wisconsin Tribes, from the 1980s to 2003 to win their battle. In 2002, the United States Supreme Court granted some Tribes “Treatment as a State” status with the federal Environmental Protections Agency. This ruling allows Eligible tribes to set their own regulations in their areas above whatever the state writes into law. The Sokaogon Chippewa and another tribe bought the Crandon mine site in 2003, therefore ending Development plans. This came about because the Tribes, Environmental Groups and Downstream Towns banded together and argued that sulphide mines had an abysmal history and that the State should not risk its precious water resources to gain a handful of jobs, for only twenty-eight years. Also, this particular ore contained 50-90% acid-generating sulphides and heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, copper, chromium and cadmium which are very toxic. As in Acid Mine drainage, once the process of acidification begins, it is impossible to stop until all the sulphur is converted to acid. It was predicted that this process would take 9000 years. In the United States, in the past 100 years, 19 308 km of rivers have been destroyed, because of the leaching of the heavy metals. The Sokaogon believe in a responsibility to the “seventh generation”, which requires the current generations to plan for the future, for the next seven generations.

In South Africa, there have been and will still be fallout from mine dumps, slime dams and acid mine drainage. ‘The Witwatersrand gold-bearing ores contain more uranium, so there is radioactive dust. 

In Linden, near Giessen in Germany, where my great-great grandfather developed the Fernie Mine (manganese ore) During the 1st World War, the mining industry was taken over by the Friedrich Krupp AG. The most important manganese ore deposits in Germany were from this area, until the 1960s’.  There was a lot of subsidence here as well, due to mining damage. During the 2nd World War, the Allies developed many bomb craters. Therefore, some of that area is now a nature reserve and also used as fish-ponds. It is apparently quite beautiful. What can be done, with the aid of conflict?

Espousing another great thinker of our times, is Maimonides and his thoughts in relation to ecology. Rabbi Moshe ben Maimum was born in 1135. He was a physician, philosopher and theologian. He was born in Cordoba, Spain and is buried in Tiberias, Israel. He believed that creation as a whole is the only dimension of being that has intrinsic value. For him, the practice of science was intertwined with a belief in an organic, ensouled universe and the practice of theology was intertwined with scientific fact. He rejected the idea that other creatures exist to serve human pleasure. Like Spinoza, another great thinker, some of these ideas are compatible with contemporary interpretations of evolution and with the idea that evolution is ‘directed’ towards diversity and complexity.’ This is the modern Bio-diversity. He also, explained that the ability to plan, use tools and make machines is not by itself a mark of human excellence, but merely makes human beings into very dangerous animals.

by Rosemary Harrison



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