Illegal mining

By Calvin Augustine

In June last year, our country woke up to the tragic news of the death of twenty people suspected of being illegal miners at an unused mine in Orkney, North West. Their premature death was because of an underground fire. This was not the first time that suspected illegal miners commonly known as ’zama zamas’ died in an abandoned mine. 

According to the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, there has been an increase in illegal mining in the county with miners risking their lives to mine in completely unsafe and hazardous conditions. They pay the ultimate price due to underground fires and fall of ground accidents. 

These illegal activities have become fodder for crime syndicates who control mineshafts. In May last year, four illegal miners also died after a fight broke out at the Transvaal Gold Mining Estate in Dientjie in Mpumalanga. 

Illegal mining has made a considerable dent in economy. The cost of illegal mining is estimated to be over R70 billion annually in gold alone and resulting in huge losses of revenue for both government and the mining sector.

Importantly, these illegal activities have a negative impact on the safety and health of surrounding communities. This also impacts on the overall wellbeing of the environment and is a risk to the sustainability of the mining industry.

Government is concerned about the practice of illegal mining and we are taking measures to put an end to it. In November last year, President Cyril Ramaphosa authorised the deployment of 3,300 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) personnel to support SAPS in their fight against illegal mining for a six-month period. 

The SANDF deployment supports a multi-sectoral effort that brings together the SAPS, State Security Agency, Border Management Authority and the departments of Mineral Resources and Energy, Home Affairs, Justice and Constitutional Development, Environmental Affairs and others. 

Furthermore, the National Coordination and Strategic Management Team (NCSMT), which was established in 2010 continues to co-ordinate government’s efforts to fight illegal mining and the trafficking of precious metals. 

The NCSMT is made up of representatives from Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, South African Police Service, Intelligence Services and the Department of Home Affairs and ensures that those involved in illegal mining are arrested and prosecuted. Secondly, this multi-departmental body has prioritised promoting legitimate mining practices through the authorisation of mining permits. 

This approach to regulate small-scale or artisan mining is in line with the African Mining Vision’s action plan which was adopted by African heads of state in 2009. The Action Plan includes creating a “mining sector that harnesses the potential of artisanal and small-scale mining to advance integrated and sustainable rural socio-economic development”. 

We are encouraged that we have seen an increase in the number for the authorisation of mining permits. In 2018 alone, we had 500 applications.  

In addition to NCSMT, government has established forums in Mpumalanga, Free State, Gauteng and Northern Cape to implement measures to eradicate illegal mining.  These forums are made up of officials from the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the South African Police Service, Visible Policing and Crime Intelligence, as well as officials from the South African Diamond and Precious Metals Regulator, the Department of Home Affairs, Council for Geoscience, municipalities affected by these illegal activities, mining companies and organised labour.

These forums meet once a month to deliberate on possible measures that can be implemented to combat illegal mining and reports from these forums are submitted to the NCSMT.

While we are making progress, we understand that more needs to be done to overcome these illegal activities in mining. We need all South Africans and businesses to assist us by taking a stand against them. Let us act today and blow the whistle on illegal mining and if you are aware of it you can report it to the nearest police station. 

Government remains steadfast in its resolve to deal with these activities that rob us of our mineral wealth. We welcome efforts by mining companies that are affected by illegal mining, such as strengthening access control and security measures.

We are confident that through our actions we will hold those who are involved to account and set a new path to grow the mining industry that benefits everyone.