Cape Town - Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu says government is taking strong action to combat illegal mining and criminal syndicates are feeling the heat.
"I want to assure the criminal syndicates involved in illegal mining that our resolve crush them has strengthened and I want to say to these criminals, 'You will continue to feel the heat as government closes in on you until you stop robbing our people of the minerals that belong to them, as per the Freedom Charter'," said the minister.
An Inter-Ministerial Security Cluster has agreed to task the newly formed Hawks to investigate illicit mining in its totality.
"The relevant legislation must be applied without fear or favour to deal with racketeering, money laundering, illegal possession of minerals, amongst others," Shabangu said, during a debate in the National Council of Provinces on Wednesday afternoon.
The minister said the newly formed Hawks had been tasked to crack down on illegal mining and syndicates involved in gold smuggling.
Illegal mining impacts negatively on the economy, "robbing our country and its people of valuable resources which could otherwise have been used to improve the lives of our people," said Shabangu.
She said illegal mining syndicates operated both locally and internationally, were sophisticated, well-organised and heavily armed.
"Illegal mining is a huge, multi-billion rand criminal industry featuring national and international syndicates and valued at some R5.6 billion. These gold-smuggling syndicates are highly organised, dangerous and well-resourced," she said.
"I want to make it clear that all those involved in illegal mining are no different from those ruthless criminals involved in cash-in-transit heists who mercilessly kill our policemen and women."
She made an example of Barberton, where shootouts are becoming a daily occurrence.
"In Barberton, Mpumalanga, illegal diggers are now taking over equipment and workplaces. They are openly carrying a huge number of weapons, including AK47's and 9mm pistols.
"Inter-gang fights and shootouts are now a daily occurrence in this area. Confrontations between illegal miners and the police and security personnel are becoming more frequent. Legal mineworkers have been also abducted in Barberton and used as human shields in confrontations with the police," said Shabangu.
In Welkom, booby traps have been set for the police and security personnel using explosives, said the minister, adding that illicit mining was spawning other illegal activities, including child prostitution and child labour.
The minister, together with a delegation of ministers from the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) Cluster will soon visit some of the affected areas to assess further action to deal comprehensively with the issue of illegal mining.