As referred to in some of my previous blogs, the supercontinent which has been named Gondwana existed from the Neoproterozoic (about 550 million years ago) until the Jurassic (about 180 million years ago).
The remnants of Gondwana make up about two thirds of today’s continental area, including South America, Africa, Antarctica, Australia, Indian Subcontinent and Arabia.
In my previous blog the theme was Latin America focussing on Argentina and Chile. This blog will highlight the geological results of earth upheavals around 150 million years ago (the landmass which is now Latin America broke away around 180 million years ago).
As with the Atacama Desert of Chile, there is another famous, though not as large, desert in Southern Africa called the Kalahari.
Kalahari is derived from the Tswana word Kgala, meaning “the great thirst”, or Kgalagadi, meaning “a waterless place”; the Kalahari has vast areas covered by red sand without any permanent surface water.
The San people (see https://youtu.be/I4StMlQC-yA ) are the indigenous nomads, just as the tribes of the Native Americans are in the Americas. They are the Kalahari Bushmen and women and their population remaining in South Africa is around 10,000.
Beautiful pictures of San at https://kwekudee-tripdownmemorylane.blogspot.com/2013/06/san-bushmen-people-world-most-ancient.html
San music (https://www.dailynative.net/the-music-of-indigenous-peoples-an-example-from-the-kalahari/) “keep their oral traditions alive. They teach their traditions to their kids. Prayers are offered to the earth and the sky. And music is played. That’s right, music! Music is one of the most powerful mediums for expressing grief, resolving tensions, and keeping traditional lifeways and cultural knowledge alive and intact.”
Victor Grauer says “that certain Kalahari Bushmen groups have been in their homeland for thousands of years, just as the genetic evidence establishes their biological indigeneity, thus settling the Kalahari debate firmly on the side of the traditionalists.”
The ancestors of the San (and the entire human race) have been found fossilised around South Africa, many being discovered whilst European/American extensive mining activities across the African landscape took place. For example – see https://www.thelondoneconomic.com/news/science/human-ancestor-that-lived-millions-of-years-ago-was-breastfed-until-12-months-old/17/07/amp/
Our ancient ancestors who left Africa and roamed the world, returned thousands of years later, believing themselves to be explorers, but, in truth, returning to the birthplace of their first ancestors.
When modern humans started emerging from Africa and spreading throughout Eurasia, they found many places already occupied by older hominids such as Neanderthals and Denisovans. Inter breeding of older and younger hominids created very different DNA to those Africans who had remained within their vast continent.
Those with changed DNA often considered the black (see Biko and the concept of ‘black’) skin inferior to their lighter skins, and their acquired technology and lifestyles imbued them with a perverse sense of superiority. They were ignorant about evolution and misunderstood their own identity. Human societies have been built around this grave misconception.
Sadly, as the Conquistadors brought death and destruction to the people and landmass of the Americas, so the Europeans (and later, Europeans who became Americans) wrought their misery on Africa and its peoples.
In South Africa the non-whites are still toiling in foreign owned industries with their rights lost to the whites when Mandela’s Charter was twisted to fit the foreign owners and not the majority African population. Even today, the SA government are forced to negotiate short of what is their right to own their own land and its industries in order to lift the population out of interminable years of suffering. (See https://www.thesouthafrican.com/news/revised-mining-charter-south-africa-2018/).
Laws to clean up the environment and make food and water safe from contamination are still not implemented. Compensation for the history of suffering under apartheid is nowhere to be seen.
One place which has proven hard for foreign investors to disrupt is the Kalahari Desert.
In http://geography.name/a-fossil-desert/ the author suggests “The dunes stabilized some 10,000 to 20,000 years ago, for reasons climate scientists do not fully understand. Curiously, while the end of the last ice age some 10,000 years ago created many of the modern deserts, in the Kalahari it apparently moderated desert conditions. That massive climate shift made conditions much more harsh in the Sahara and in North America turned grasslands into deserts. But here, the same shift apparently converted a raw sand desert into a semiarid grassland. The explanation probably lies in planetwide shifts in rainfall patterns relating to the accompanying warming, sea level rise, and shifts in trade winds, ocean temperatures, and monsoons. Although the Kalahari remained in a desert-prone latitude hedged in by rain-blocking mountains, enough of an enhanced wet season delivered plenty of rain to greatly soften the desert conditions.”
In http://www.wildland.com/feature/Kalahari_Desert.aspx “the beauty and wild expanses of the Kalahari are hinted at as it stretches across now named countries of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, for a full 360,000 square miles.”
Across these lands the San would live their nomadic life, but now mostly contained in designated reserves, just as the Native Americans find themselves.
Lying southeast of the Okavango Delta and surrounded by the Kalahari Desert, is the Makgadikgadi, a dried lake, now a salt pan.
“Makgadikgadi is technically not a single pan, but many pans with sandy desert in between, the largest being the Sua (Sowa), Nwetwe and Nxai Pans. The largest individual pan is about 1,900 sq mi (4,921.0 km2). In comparison, Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is a single salt flat of 4,100 sq mi (10,619.0 km2), rarely has much water, and is generally claimed to be the world’s largest salt pan. A dry, salty, clay crust most of the year, the pans are seasonally covered with water and grass, and are then a refuge for birds and animals in this very arid part of the world. The climate is hot and dry, but with regular annual rains.”
Image of Makgadikgadi
Image of Mosi-oa-Tunya (Victoria Falls). Mosi-oa-Tunya lie between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Contrast these natural beauties with scars and toxic waste from mining.
There is no doubt that mineral and mining companies have remained part of the biggest companies in South Africa. See https://www.sibanyestillwater.com
“Mining built South Africa, but the country’s mining industry is dying. Pale yellow mounds of gold mine waste dot Johannesburg—called eGoli in Zulu, meaning Place of Gold—attesting to the promise of fortune, which built and now threatens the country. The country’s former breadwinner is manifested in 6,000 derelict and ownerless gold, coal, diamond and other mines scattered across South Africa.”
“Mining production in South Africa shrank 1.5 percent from a year earlier in May 2019, the seventh consecutive month of decline and compared to market forecasts of a 2.5 percent slump. The largest negative contributors were: gold (-24.4 percent), diamonds (-30.7 percent), iron ore (-5.2 percent), and other metallic minerals (-9.8 percent). On the other hand, output growth was recorded for coal (8 percent), PGMs (6.8 percent), and manganese ore (29.3 percent). On a seasonally adjusted monthly basis, mining output increased by 3 percent, reversing a 1.8 percent fall in April. Mining Production in South Africa averaged -0.10 percent from 1981 until 2019, reaching an all time high of 23.20 percent in October of 2013 and a record low of -17.40 percent in March of 2016.”
Image A miner emerging from a South African mine.
Image of illegal gold being sought.
“Small-scale gold mining operations sometimes use mercury to separate the gold from other materials. First, mercury is mixed with the materials containing gold. A mercury-gold amalgam then is formed because gold will dissolve in the mercury while other impurities will not. The mixture of gold and mercury is then heated to a temperature that will vaporize the mercury, leaving behind the gold. This process does not result in gold that is 100 percent pure, but it does eliminate the bulk of the impurities.
The problem with this method is the release of the mercury vapor into the environment. Even if equipment is used to catch the vapor, some still can get into the atmosphere. Mercury also can get into the soil and water if it still is contaminating other waste materials from the mining process that may be discarded.”
Image of gold mine
Gold Fields said it will carry out the new project through the proposed unbundling of its subsidiary unit. (Image source: Natalia V/Flickr)
All mining trashes the landscape.
“Mercury first was used to extract gold as many as 3,000 years ago. The process was prominent in the U.S. up until the 1960s, and the environmental impact on northern California is still felt today, according to sciencing.com.
Mercury vapor negatively impacts the nervous, digestive, and immune systems, and the lungs and kidneys, and it can be fatal, according to the World Health Organization. These health effects can be felt from inhaling, ingesting, or even just physical contact with mercury. Common symptoms include tremors, trouble sleeping, memory loss, headaches, and loss of motor skills.
A common means of becoming infected is through eating contaminated fish.”
There has been a long history of tailing dam disasters, in South Africa and many places where similar mining activities take place around the world.
An aerial view of the dam after it had collapsed. Image from tailings.info
This is the story of the Merriespruit Tailings Dam disaster (from floodlist.com)
Merriespruit is a suburb of Virginia in South Africa, and on the 22nd of February 1994 it suffered a terrible flood because of failure to the Merriespuit tailings dam. There had been heavy rainfall that day, and the dam could not hold the extra water. The damage was immense, destroying eighty homes and killing seventeen people.
The dam itself was for the deposit of gold tailings. After gold was removed from local rock, the materials left over were transported to the dam in order to settle during the day. During the night, slurry was processed. In the middle of the dam, there was a drain to get rid of excess water.
The dam was built in the town in 1978, and only just over three hundred metres away from one of the houses in Merriespruit, which contained around two hundred and fifty houses in total. The year before the disaster, a leak was reported, so all deposition was cancelled in to that particular compartment. Extra water was filtered into another compartment. Before the dam failed, the conditions were considered unsafe and unfit. The freeboard (which contained the extra water) did not have the ability to hold half a metre of extra water. But still, nothing was done.
On the day of the disaster, there were reports of a flurry of water coming from the dam into the town. However, this was not the first time a stream had escaped. Another eye witness saw a leak coming from over the top wall of the dam. The mining contractors arrived to assess the dam that evening. They assessed the damage, and were about to warn the local town. However, they had no time. A loud crash was heard coming from the dam, and a wave broke free, heading towards the locals.
The flood that was released was a mixture of water, sediment and slime from the gold tailing process. The volume of water that flowed out was six hundred thousand metres squared. By the time it reached the first house in Merriespruit, the wall of silt and water was two and a half metres high. The liquids travelled four kilometres before losing its momentum, but the damage had been done.
In the aftermath of the floods, investigations were undertaken to assess what exactly had happened. The Minister of Justice and the State looked at all the evidence, which included weather reports, lab reports from the owners of the dam, satellite reports, and statements from eye witnesses. In the end, the fault was down to the contractor and the mine who were responsible for the upkeep. Eight people were fined for negligence. As it transpired, there had been a drop in the number of employees at the dam in recent years. Certain members of staff had been promoted into jobs that they had not been trained for.
There was naturally an outrage from the community about the disaster. In response, the law subsequently changed so that no tailings dams can now be built within a kilometre of housing.
Sources: Wikipedia, Tailings
Big Hole image (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Hole#/media/File%3AOpen_pit_mine.jpg)) A diamond mine. The Big Hole, Open Mine, Kimberley Mine or Tim Kuilmine (Afrikaans: Groot Gat) is an open-pit and underground mine in Kimberley, South Africa, and claimed to be the deepest hole excavated by hand, although this claim is disputed.
“Did you know that alluvial mining can cause serious deterioration and damage to our natural environment? You might have heard of the Big Hole (the Kimberley open mine) or the Jagersfontein Mine where some of the most famous diamonds in history had been unearthed.
Unknown to many people, these mines are the biggest man-made holes and had also left permanent scars on our planet’s surface which could be seen from space.” Yet for twenty years some want it registered as a World Heritage site!
We monetise our resources at our peril. We must try and prevent the Shock Doctrine (see Naomi Klein) economic philosophy from destroying what little is left. Perhaps a growing pressure to change international law and make ecocide a crime. Take a look at https://www.stopecocide.earth.