On windy days, Mary Roets wears a surgical mask in her home in the Krugersdorp suburb of Mindalore. She washes her pots before she uses them and avoids hanging her wet laundry out to dry outside. She is waging a daily war against toxic dust.

Despite Chamber of Mines guidelines stipulating that mine dumps must be at least 500 metres away from any human settlement, the width of a single suburban tar road is all that stands between Roets’ front door and a large mine dump.

“If you open your mouth, you can taste you’ve got sand in your mouth. It’s hanging in the air, you’ve got dust in your mouth and all that toxic waste in there,” said Roets, who has lived in Mindalore for 32 years. “We need to spring clean our houses from top to bottom to get rid of all that sand. No wonder the people are sick.”

On windy days, dust from the mine dump opposite the road blows through cracks in door and window frames into Roets’ home and invariably into her lungs. Outside, a layer of dust coats the water in her swimming pool.

More than a million Gauteng residents are exposed to high levels of uranium daily from about 400km² of mine tailings sprinkled around the province. Experts estimate these old tailings or “mine dumps” are laden with 600,000 tons of radioactive uranium. Often occurring naturally alongside gold, this uranium has been brought to the surface by gold mining over the last century.

Uranium is passed on to humans either through the inhalation of fine dust particles from these tailings and can be blown as far as 20km on a windy day, or when mine water seepage enters rivers.

patience cleaning her pots_with credit

Patience Mjadu cleans her pots constantly due to the high volume of dust in Tudor Shaft.