No aliens–humans only. One of the themes of District 9, a movie we went to see last night.
We never thought to call them anything but slimes dam. I still feel a little uneasy about the euphemisms inherent in the terms tailings impoundment or containment facility. But then the waves of political correctness engulf both politicians and slimes dam engineers alike.
I think the movie, District 9 , is a fine piece of movie making. It captures the feel of the things that were happening in South Africa in the 1970: forced removal of people from their homes; unanswerable official statements; the glow of family and friends at a party where any one of them could be a traitor or spy for the Broederbond.
I leave it to movie critics more refined than me to evaluate the movie. All I do is encourage you to go and see the movie so that you can see the big slimes dams in the heart of Johannesburg. Here is sustainable mining in all its glory. The town grew up around the mines and nobody even notices the slimes dams. Instead, they got on with fundamental human activities like prejudice, race hate, removals of those who are different, and the application of the rule of law to dubious purposes.
All I can do to capture the tenor and idiocy of those times is to write a sketch of the official attitude of those days to slimes dams. George Donaldson was a research engineer at the CSIR–the government-controlled research institute in Pretoria where they provided the scientific basis for apartheid. He had ginger hair and bushy eyebrows and he never liked me. Here is a perfect example of his attitude to slimes dams—he thought they were wonderful things. The following is a abstract of a paper he published in 1973.
Theoretical and engineering aspects of slimes-dam construction by G. W. DONALDSON, M.Sc. (Eng.)(U.C.T.), D.I.C. (Visitor) This paper reviews the recommendations made in 1959-60 as a result of research into slimes-dam construction and finds that these recommendations are still valid. The requirements for pollution control, vegetating, in situ leaching, and future development of slimes dams as building areas are considered as they affect the engineering aspects of slimes-dam construction, and it is found that these requirements can be met without any major changes to current recommended slimes-dam construction practice.
I particularly liked his statement:
Even on badly drained sites, a dam can be built to a safe height of 40 m at an angle of 30 degrees at a rate of 3 m per year. As the rate of building increases, the safe height and/or angle of slope must be reduced.
And you must love his conclusion:
Although this is not true of the gold-mining industry, there are slimes dams where the seepage effluent contains harmful pollutants, such as the gypsum dams for the fertilizer industry.
He was so perfect a defender of the status quo that he was blind to scientific evidence. Thus it is fun to look at the situation today. Here are links to three papers on the topic:
- Investigation into the slimes dams, mine dumps and landfill as environmental constraints to low-cost housing projet in Gauteng, South Africa
- Rehabilitation of tailings dams on the Central Rand: Johannesburg
- Environmental Justice in South Africa
There awaits a PhD for the student who can integrate the movie District 9 into the story of slimes dams, apartheid, and the blidness of professionals in research organizations. Go for it!