Objective of the flight: 

The objective of the flight was reconnaissance of three mining sites for the purposes of gathering content for the Federation for a Sustainable Environment to use in lobbying efforts as well as for journalist, Mark Olalde, to use in the media.

Pilot: Grant Brook

Aircraft: R44

Beneficiary: Mark Olalde (freelance journalist, Centre for Sustainability in Mining and Industry, representing Federation for a Sustainable Environment on the flight); Michelle Graessle (Wits City Institute)

Report from the beneficiary:

“The whole trip went smoothly, and Grant was great. We began the flight just before 10am and were in the air for about 1.5 hours. The first location we flew over was the Central Rand Gold operation near Soccer City on the border of Johannesburg and Soweto. Our bird’s-eye view of their operations allowed us to see the extent of the company’s unrehabilitated open pit. It allowed us to watch them removing and dumping dirt, which was helpful because there is debate over what materials are being used to backfill the pit. We also viewed Zama Zamas operating in the pit at the same time the company employees were on site, confirming that the company is at least tacitly allowing this activity.

The next stop was the Mintails Mining South Africa operation in Krugersdorp. Again, the aerial view allowed us a more complete look at their operations and the rehabilitation efforts that are needed but not underway. Mariette Liefferink and Olalde have tried to access these operations before but were turned away, so this flyover proved very useful. Also, having a view of the sheer size of the unrehabilitated footprint will undoubtedly prove powerful in Liefferink’s activism and Olalde’s reporting.

The final site visited was the abandoned Blyvooruitzicht Gold Mine in Carletonville on the  far West Rand. There is talk of a landmark deal to sell this mine piecemeal, so the footage gathered there will assist both with reporting as well as activism. This part of the trip allowed a view of just how close unremediated tailings piles are to populations as well as the scale of illegal mining and sale of specific mining assets. We had enough time for several passes at each location, and it seemed as if each passenger on the flight was struck by the scale and impact of mining. Many thanks again to The Bateleurs and Grant for your assistance.

The Federation for a Sustainable Environment will use the photos as evidence in the group’s lobbying to force rehabilitation of Blyvooruitzicht Gold Mine, Mintails’ remining operations, and Central Rand Gold’s operations. Olalde will publish media reports on the topic. The Wits City Institute is considering publishing an exhibit on the topic and using the photos, as well.

Most impacts from this flight will be measurable over a longer term. The Federation for a Sustainable Environment’s continued activism will gain from this flight by having evidence to present in lobbying efforts for mine rehabilitation. Therefore, its measurable impacts will be advances in legislation as well as the relevant agencies enforcing rehabilitation at these sites. Graessle and the Wits City Institute will use the footage in a more academic way for future study of the Mining Belt, so impacts will be more difficult to measure. However, the Institute is considering an exhibit on mining around the city. Measurable impacts from Olalde will mainly be stories reported on the topic and number of reads/views.”

Report from the pilot, Grant Brook:

The weather forecast showed mist in the early morning and thunderstorms in the afternoon so I suggested a mid- morning lift off at 10am giving a 4hr window to the forecasted start of the storms. We had arranged to meet at 09h30. Mark and Michelle arrived at Henley Air at 09h20 at the same time as myself and I took them straight through to the helipad. RUT was washed fuelled and ready and after a pre-flight I gave a short safety briefing. As it was Michelle’s first helicopter flight I suggested that we kept the back door on. Mark was comfortable so we removed the front passenger door to allow him more freedom for taking photos. Mark was very familiar with the targets and the surrounds and was able to quickly identify the areas that he needed to photograph. This was a concern of mine before take-off and made the flight a lot easier.

First stop was Riverlea, south of Johannesburg CBD, where we circled an old mine excavation that needed to be filled and rehabilitated. Mark mentioned that some Zama Zama’s had died there recently. Next stop was Krugersdorp, this was followed by Blyvooruitzicht mine near Carletonville which Mark identified from a nearby Engen filling station that he recognized. Once he had the footage he was looking for we took a direct track back to Rand, following the Potchefstroom road and routing down the Klip River valley.

We landed with 1.6hrs used on the MPI Hobbs. RUT doesn’t have a commercial Hobbs so the flying time is measured from lift-off to touchdown. Start-up and shutdown are not measured. Mark and Michelle indicated that they were happy with the trip. I left them in the reception area at Henley Air waiting for their Uber Taxi pickup. All in all a nice first Bateleurs experience. I don’t often ‘flip’ around Johannesburg and having a purpose made the time that much more enjoyable.”