Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has warned that if not abated, illegal mining “will reach crisis proportions” and poses a “threat to national security, government authority and socio-economic development” in the country.
Mantashe made these remarks during a National Plenary discussion on illegal mining in Parliament on Thursday afternoon.
“This criminal activity is in contravention of our laws and forms part of many other economic related crimes that are afflicting our society. Illegal mining is associated with very serious crimes such as illicit financial flows and high levels of violence, including gender-based violence and femicide. Furthermore, we have witnessed human trafficking, smuggling of weapons, and explosives linked to this crime.
“Historically, illegal mining was associated with derelict and ownerless mines; however, it is now having an impact on operational and licensed mines. It is estimated that the South African economy and the mining sector lost approximately R49 billion in 2019 to illegal mining,” he said.
Illegal mining has come under sharp focus over recent weeks following the brutal gang rape of eight women near a disused mine in Krugersdorp in July.
A specialised cooperative unit is subsequently being formulated to deal with the scourge.
“The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) and South African Police Service (SAPS) have been working closely to design this specialised unit. I can confirm that there is now alignment between the two departments on how this unit should look like and operate. The Ministry of Police will at an appropriate time make the necessary announcements regarding the establishment of this unit.
“However, I can safely say…that the unit is expected to be multi-disciplinary and will draw in skills from other departments. It will need to have the ability to detect, combat and investigate these crimes.”
He emphasised that a clear distinction needs to be made between artisanal and small-scale mining and illegal mining as the two are, at times, equated to each other.
“Artisanal mining is a formalised economic activity usually undertaken by citizens or documented inhabitants of a country. It must be clear that once an individual illegally enters our country and engages in illegal economic activity, such an individual cannot be sanitised through being issued with a small-scale mining licence. Let us disabuse ourselves of that notion.
“Illegal miners are foot soldiers of criminal syndicates and must be dealt with like any other economic saboteur. It is [also] becoming clear that Illegal mining is run by syndicates with a direct linkage to illegal migration. Recent arrests by the SAPS showed that those apprehended are in the majority undocumented illegal immigrants. If unchecked, illegal mining could be an existential threat to the sector,” Mantashe said.
According to the Minister, there are some 6 100 “derelict and ownerless” mines in South Africa and estimates on rehabilitating these have gone up to at least R49 billion.
He added that although budget constraints is inhibiting government’s desire to move quickly on these, progress is being made.
“The department…receives R140 million per annum for the rehabilitation of mines. With this allocation, we can only rehabilitate at least three mines and seal off 40 shafts per year. The department has prioritised the rehabilitation of former asbestos mines because of the health hazards of asbestosis causing lung ailments, with a total of 270 derelict and ownerless asbestos mines.
“Mintek [South Africa’s mineral research and technology organisation] has through the implementation of the derelict and ownerless mine rehabilitation programme sealed 135 holings in the Eastern, Central, and Western Basins in Gauteng over a three-year period. We intend to seal 20 holings within the current financial year, prioritising the Krugersdorp area,” Mantashe said. – SAnews.gov.za