by Roger Baxter, CEO - Minerals Council


The Big Issue


Illegal mining is a very serious challenge in South Africa. Illegal mining at closed gold mines and, in many cases, in disused portions of operating gold mines, has received much attention. But, more recently, we have seen a significant increase in illegal mining in other commodities.

Not only does illegal mining have a significant economic impact on current mining operations—both in terms of losses of product or productive resources and in terms of the costs of additional safety and security measures that run into millions of rands every month—but it seriously undermines mining prospects, it presents a whole range of negative social and financial impacts across the board. This includes the serious risk to the personal safety of illegal miners themselves, and to the volunteer rescuers who are inevitably called upon to rescue or recover illegal miners who have been trapped underground. Their activities also have a negative impact on the safety and health of miners at current operations. Illegal mining has often been the cause of underground fires, of damage to infrastructure, and miners and security personnel are frequently assaulted and threatened by illegal miners. There is, of course, a negative impact on the environment, such as through the use of mercury in gold mining. And, because illegal mining often brings with it a whole range of other activities, it has often had the consequence of introducing criminal elements into communities and increasing the levels of violence. Finally, it also creates losses for the fiscus through unpaid royalties and taxes.

The industry, through the Minerals Council and individual companies, works very closely with other stakeholders to address this serious challenge, including the Department of Mineral Resources and the South African Police Service (SAPS).

However, it is no easy task. SAPS does not always have the capacity to deal with the enormity of the challenge. Additionally, illegal mining is rarely a small-scale activity and is most often integrated into extensive and sophisticated criminal syndicates.

While there have been calls for the ‘legalisation’ of illegal mining, this is also not a simple answer. The issuing of small-scale mining licences to illegal miners in the Northern Cape, for instance, was a positive step towards contributing to local economic development, but it has also had unintended consequences.

The Minerals Council has called for greater clarity around the government’s regulatory framework for artisanal mining and has welcomed the DMR’s stated intention of creating a special SAPS division to deal with illegal mining. Collaboration between multiple impacted stakeholders is critical to effectively address these enormous challenges.

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