Johannesburg : « la ville la plus contaminée à l’uranium au monde »

En 1886, de riches investisseurs, ayant flairé l’odeur de l’or qui gisait dans les sols de l’Afrique du Sud, commencent à bâtir Johannesburg. Véritable épicentre de cette ruée vers l’or, la ville bâtie de toutes pièces par les exploitants miniers deviendra vite une capitale économique d’importance. Si Johannesburg a tiré sa fortune de ses ressources minières, c’est aujourd’hui de là également qu’elle tire sa misère. Les populations (extrêmement pauvres) vivant en périphérie de la plus grande ville d’Afrique du Sud, dans ce qu’on appelle les townships, sont polluées par les radiations des déchets d’uranium, les poussières de charbon, de plomb, d’arsenic ou de zinc, transportées dans l’eau et dans l’air… Comme si après que ses entrailles ont été abimées par des décennies de coups de pioche, la terre relâchait désormais un long soupir mortifère.

En 1886, de riches investisseurs, ayant flairé l’odeur de l’or qui gisait dans les sols de l’Afrique du Sud, commencent à bâtir Johannesburg. Véritable épicentre de cette ruée vers l’or, la ville bâtie de toutes pièces par les exploitants miniers deviendra vite une capitale économique d’importance. Si Johannesburg a tiré sa fortune de ses ressources minières, c’est aujourd’hui de là également qu’elle tire sa misère. Les populations (extrêmement pauvres) vivant en périphérie de la plus grande ville d’Afrique du Sud, dans ce qu’on appelle les townships, sont polluées par les radiations des déchets d’uranium, les poussières de charbon, de plomb, d’arsenic ou de zinc, transportées dans l’eau et dans l’air… Comme si après que ses entrailles ont été abimées par des décennies de coups de pioche, la terre relâchait désormais un long soupir mortifère.

« Radioactive city [La ville radioactive] » : c’est ainsi que The Guardian a tristement baptisé la ville de Johannesburg – ou plutôt ses townships, installés juste à côté des anciennes galeries des mines. Il existe plus de 600 mines abandonnées aux alentours de la métropole du Transvaal, vestiges d’un siècle d’intense exploitation des gisements aurifères de la Witwatesrand, et près de 200 terrils, des collines artificielles composées des déchets issus de l’extraction minière. Ces collines, composées des matériaux considérés comme des « déchets » par les exploitants miniers, sont en réalité des condensés de polluants et de toxiques…

Quand le vent souffle, des résidus de plomb, de cuivre voire de cyanure ou d’arsenic sont emportés et déposent une couche noirâtre sur le sol, les meubles, parfois même sur la nourriture. Lorsque le vent souffle le plus, en août et en septembre, se débarrasser de cette poussière toxique devient une tâche presque impossible, les dépôts sur la nourriture se font plus fréquents et les habitants, ne pouvant s’acheter de la nourriture quotidiennement, sont contraints de laisser leurs repas être contaminés. L’ingestion ou l’inhalation de ces résidus est à la source de graves problèmes respiratoires ou de maladies de la peau. Les cliniques locales constatent que toutes les classes d’âge sont touchées par l’asthme ou la tuberculose.

Une photo prise le 14 décembre 2017 montre des enfants qui jouent dans les rues de Rivelea, une banlieue appauvrie vivant aux abords d’une des plus grandes décharges minières de Soweto. Arsenic, plomb, uranium … A Johannesburg, des dizaines de milliers de Sud-Africains vivent au pied des montagnes de déchets miniers, vestiges du passé minier aurifère qui a enrichi le pays mais menace désormais la santé des habitants des townships. / AFP PHOTO / MUJAHID SAFODIEN

Mais le plus grave sans doute est que des centaines de milliers de tonnes de résidus d’uranium ont été enfouies dans les galeries abandonnées. En effet, les minerais d’uranium apparaissent généralement dans les mêmes conditions géologiques que les minerais d’or, ce qui fait que les deux sont généralement extraits en même temps. D’après une étude, pour chaque tonne d’or minée dans les exploitations aurifères de la Witwatersrand, entre 10 et 100 tonnes d’uranium étaient également extraites. Or, les résidus d’uranium radioactifs contaminent l’eau locale, qui à son tour contaminent les champs et prairies où le bétail est élevé, et où les enfants vont jouer. C’est d’ailleurs la raison pour laquelle, alors même que Johannesburg dispose de nombreuses sources, la ville est contrainte d’importer la majorité de son eau à Lesotho, qui se situe à 380 kilomètres de là. Mais l’environnement est contaminé dans son ensemble, la radioactive city porte malheureusement bien son nom…

« Johannesburg est sans aucun doute la ville la plus contaminée à l’uranium au monde » (Antony Turton, professeur à University of Free State’s Centre for Environmental Management)

Face à ce problème majeur, on peut imaginer que les autorités réagiraient, ne serait-ce que pour mettre fin à la contamination des ressources aquifères qui ne touche pas que les townships mais bien toute la région de Johannesburg. Et pour cause, il y a cinq ans le gouvernement avait désigné 36 « zones prioritaires » affectés par la radioactivité afin de déployer des plans de secours. Mais aujourd’hui, pas un seul plan n’a encore été mis en place. D’après le Cancer Association of South Africa, la santé de près de 400 000 personnes pourraient être affectée par l’inaction du gouvernement.

Rien ne laisse espérer que les choses changent, étant donné que les anciens détenteurs des mines sont inconnus ou insolvables, il est donc impossible de faire payer le nettoyage aux responsables de ce fléau discret mais désormais connu. Impossible également pour les habitants, trop pauvres, de quitter les lieux.

Et alors que d’autres mines sont encore exploitées dans les environs de Johannesburg, on aimerait appeler les responsables à écouter la sagesse d’un mythe tel que celui du roi Midas qui, ayant demandé à Dionysos de pouvoir transformer tout ce qu’il touchait en or, vit son vœu se transformer en véritable tragédie. Incapable de boire ou de manger, ce qu’il croyait devenir la source de son bonheur devint un mal hors de toute mesure. Malheureusement dans notre cas, ce ne sont pas les magnats de l’or qui payeront cher leur désir insatiable de fortune, mais bien les populations voisines démunies qui ne peuvent, à l’image de Midas, boire l’eau voisine…

Crédits photo de couverture : MUJAHID SAFODIEN / AFP

 

Source: La Reléve et La Peste

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0 commentaire sur “Johannesburg : « la ville la plus contaminée à l’uranium au monde »”

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