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Water or coal? South Africa’s dilemma

by Gill Fickling

The explosion was deafening … the ground shook … and thick black dust fell from the ceiling. Nobody dived under the table, or ran for cover. In fact, nobody flinched as this was all part of daily life. No, we weren't filming in a war-zone but in South Africa, at the home of a black farmer who lives with his family just 50 metres away from a coal-mine.

The blasting at the large open-cast mine next door is a daily occurrence, but Lucas Maseko and his wife are philosophical about the fact that they can no longer live in their house due to the large cracks to walls and ceiling, and are forced to sleep in the small barn next door. But they cannot accept that their water supply is now unusable due to underground pollution caused by the mining activities, killing their cattle and forcing them off their land. And they are one family of many.

I traveled with cameraman, Al Lyne, to the main coal-mining region, Mpumalanga, to shoot a story on the impact of coal-mining on South Africa's main rivers, which provide water to millions. Experts warn that the country is heading for a catastrophe if the water-sources are not protected calling for restrictions to further coal-mining. But with the nation's dependency on coal as a source of energy and export income, as well as the industry's provision of employment to thousands, the country is faced with a difficult dilemma.

See the film here - part of the UN’s award-winning monthly magazine programme,  ”21st Century”.

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