South Africa reels under illegal mining

Illegal mining in South Africa is on the increase in the face of deteriorating economic situation in that mineral-rich country, according to reliable sources.

This came to light during a discussion programme 'African Dialogue' on Channel Africa the external service of the South African Broadcasting Corporation Monday.

All those interviewed on the channel acknowledged the increased levels of illegal mining which they blamed on poverty and declining mining industry. Many have been led into illegal mining for the simple reason of trying to curve out a livelihood for themselves.

But then criminal syndicates have taken over the cartel making it difficult for authorities in the government to control it. Criminal elements are keen on protecting their incomes from illegal mining.

"Government and mining companies do recognise the problem of illegal mining but have chosen to remain quiet," an official from the environment sector said. She accused both the government and mining companies of shying away from their responsibility to regulate the mining industry.

Another official from the mining fraternity said they were afraid of confronting the illegal miners because of the danger that would ensue realising the high poverty levels in the country which has forced some of the people to venture into illegal mining.

An estimated 30,000 illegal miners are said to be operating from more than 300 semi-closed or completely shut down mining sites throughout the country.. The sheer number of people involved and the diversity of the mining sites makes it even harder for authorities to control the  vice.

Lack of coordinated effort and insufficient regulatory policies has helped illegal mining to flourish in South Africa. Government ineffectiveness to regulate the mining sector has made it easy for for illegal miners to  invade and encroach the decommissioned mines.

The South African Human Rights Commission has called for coordinated efforts between the government and mining stakeholders to stop illegal mining which has so far claimed several lives in accidents underground.

At the same time the human rights body has asked government to carry out a research on the matter before coming up with regulations that will help to deal with the illegal mining in the country.

What is worrying is the infiltration of the illegal mining sector by foreign elements. It is actually international money at play in the illegal mining scourge. Hence there is need to seek international assistance from international law enforcement and justice systems.

The historical legacy of South African mines has made the disused mines vulnerable to foreigners from some of the neighboring  countries whose citizens used to work for the mines.

However not everything is lost in fighting the scourge except both the government and the mining companies are blaming the illegal miners without involving the community who are at the receiving end of harsh economic realities. After all it s the same community which provides both labour and depends on mining for their survival.

For example it s not enough for the mining companies just to pay taxes to the government without putting in place post-mining measures that can hep to mitigate against future misuse of their mining sites.

Mining companies working alongside the mine regulation department can do a lot to educate people on what they would be exposed to through illegal mining. This way they would be protecting the lives of the people and sustenance of the environment.

Another thing is for government to encourage large scale mining in order to forestall small scale mining ventures without the necessary expertise and capital support. Alternatively it should legalise illegal mining by giving them the necessary empowerment, skills and technology.

In any case all those who dialogued on Channel Africa admitted that there were myriads of issues surrounding illegal mining in South Africa. They said there are a lot of grey areas which need to be put right if mining has to benefit all the people.

They also said mining companies should ensure that their mines even after closure are not accessible to individuals while they should strive to make the environment around their mining operations safe.

Enough focus need to be given to the mining industry where government and mining companies should support those communities close to the mining sites. The monitoring and implementation of  mining policies cannot be let to chance, they contend.

In other words mining should be made to share its benefits with the community. In the past mining has been done at the expense of the community    Meanwhile as the South African government tries to figure out the best way of dealing with the illegal mining in the country the "zama-zama" as the illegal miners are notoriously known are busy consolidating their positions at the mines where they are carrying out their illicit mining business.