South Africa: Cyanide spill kills cattle (by Ndumiso Mlilo for Farm Radio Weekly in South Africa)

| March 19, 2012

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One day in late February, Vusi Kubheka was dreaming about multiplying his livestock in the next breeding season. Little did he know that his stock would be down by 11 by the end of the day.

Mr. Kubheka raises livestock in the village of Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal. In late February of this year, he lost 11 cattle, valued at a total of 100,000 South African Rand, around $13,500 U.S. The animals drank from the Ngagane River, which had been contaminated with cyanide from a rubber making operation. Nine of the animals were heifers. The heifers left calves. Mr. Kubheka could not afford to buy supplementary feed and had to sell the calves for 15,000 Rand, around $2000 U.S. He says, “I was devastated by this. I hear they want to compensate us, but I will believe by seeing.” Mr. Kubheka has been a farmer for more than 13 years, and this is not the only time he has experienced such a loss. In 2001, he lost 18 cattle in a similar manner.

A synthetic rubber manufacturer, Karbochem, has admitted to discharging cyanide into the river. Jaco Prinsloo speaks for Karbochem. He says the spill was caused by a lapse in their disaster management system. He adds that they are working on how to compensate the farmers. Mr. Prinsloo said, “We have accepted accountability from the first moment and are dealing with the situation via our insurers.” He explained that cyanide leaked through a pipe, and ended up in the water which the cattle drank. Mr. Prinsloo says this is the first time this kind of thing has happened in the company’s 30 years of operation. He assures farmers that changes have been made to ensure that it will not happen again.

According to Mr. Prinsloo, two farmers lost a total of 12 cattle. He says the company has sent an apology to the farmers. He states that there was no negligence on the part of Karbochem because all the necessary safety precautions were followed. Karbochem says that no further damage was done to people, the environment or other animals.

Lindiwe Dlomo is the chairperson of The National Farmers Association of South Africa in Newcastle. She says three of their members lost a total of 16 cattle. Lindiwe says, “We are not happy about what Karbochem did to discharge dangerous acids into the river. We will make sure that farmers get compensated. I suggest that they build their own dams where they will discharge their harmful chemicals to and then fence that dam.”

The floodgates of nearby Chelmsford dam were opened to dilute the water in the river and make it less poisonous. Karbochem will likely be charged for contaminating the water.

For more on this story, see:

“Company admits to cyanide spill”:

“Cyanide spill: firm may face fine”;