Rampant illegal mining poses a considerable threat to the formal mining industry in terms of sustainability as well as posing innumerable risk to the wellbeing of surrounding communities, according to ASPASA director Nico Pienaar.
As a result, the surface mining industry association is working closely with its members and authorities to identify and clamp down on illegal mining of all types, from small borrow pits to well-organised, large-scale mining undertaken by syndicates.
Pienaar says the recent deaths of seven illegal miners on the East Rand of Johannesburg underscores the urgent need to identify rogue operations and have them swiftly shut down to prevent further loss of life.
“It’s a dangerous game practised by dangerous criminals and as if the threat of murder is not enough, these illegal miners also operate in unsafe environments with no regard for health and safety,” says Pienaar.
In addition, illegal mining also has a detrimental effect on the environment, as well as the health and safety of surrounding communities, he adds.
From a business perspective it also erodes the profitability of legal operations and in some instances even gives illegal operations a price advantage due to their scant regard of legal requirements.
“Contrary to popular belief illegal mining is not always practiced by wheelbarrow brigade-type miners with rudimentary tools but is also undertaken in broad daylight by sophisticated syndicates and even by some municipalities,” says Pienaar.
He explains that without the required authorisations no mining of any mineral may take place in South Africa regardless of its value or purpose. This means that companies, municipalities or individuals cannot simply remove ground or minerals wherever they want to.
The Mineral Petroleum Resources Development Act (MRPDA) is clear that once a material is taken away from its natural state and put in another form it is being mined. Rather, users need to go through the same process as legal mining operations to get the necessary permissions to mine any material required.
This includes rezoning the land at local government level, undertaking the necessary environmental studies required on a regional and national basis, water use licences, as well as obtaining a mining licence from the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy.
“Whether mining for gold, diamonds, coal, clay, salt or aggregates it needs to be done legally and in a manner that does not harm the environment, nor negatively affect surrounding communities and detract from future land use possibilities.
“Equally important is that workers are subject to the same safety and health requirements as legally operated mines. They have a massively unfair advantage over legal operators in the industry. They don’t pay royalties, tax or make any other statutory contributions to government or towards the sustainability of the industry.
“Nor do they need to observe safety, health, environment and quality legislation which means they can expose their employees to inhumane working conditions, as well as cause untold damage to the environment without fear of retribution,” Pienaar highlights.
As a result of the threat of illegal mining, ASPASA regularly calls upon its members to report illegal operations and ask stakeholders within the mining sector to report illegal mining to the association or to the local authorities.
“If we are able to stop illegal operations we will also be in a better position to ensure sustainable practices are upheld, both in terms of the economic development of the industry, as well as ensuring the environment is protected for future generations,” concludes Pienaar.