Small quarrying operations throughout the country are carrying the back-breaking burden of supplying South Africa’s entire building and construction industry with up to 70%of building materials used to construct infrastructure and housing.
Yet, individual quarrying operators in this key sector are not being nurtured by government, rather they are being over-regulated and are pushed to the point where smaller operations are becoming unviable and left with no choice but to close their gates. This often allows for illegal mining to escalate and not be controlled.
The problem says Aggregate and Sand Producers Association of Southern Africa (Aspasa) chairman, Gert Coffee, is that regulation of quarries is lumped into the same legislative framework as mining and thereforethe same rules apply for small quarries as they do for large gold or platinum mines.
The burden on financial resources of small quarrying operations is enormous and can easily drive input costs beyond the price that is attainable for sand and stone.
“For this reason we want to be recognised as different from the mainstream mining industry and want to draw attention to the fact that the majority of members are smaller operations outside of towns that do not have the same resources that mainstream mines have.
“Without these small quarries however, the construction industry in the area that it serves will be severely impacted as materials will need to be shipped in, although road transport of aggregates beyond a 100 km radius is uneconomical and exceeds the market price attainable.
“Another problem is that input costs are pushing the price of sand and stone upwards and as a result building costs are rising to the point where illegal quarries and borrow pits are starting to thrive. With no regard for legislation nor tax, royalties or even the wellbeing of their workers, these unscrupulous operators can undercut legal ones and drive them to closure,” says Coffee.
He explains that in order to bring relief, Aspasa wants to work with authorities to explore a separate sectoral classification which can be tailored to the industry and govern it according to its own requirements. “It is not that we do not want to be regulated, rather we want regulations to be useful rather than counter productive.”
“In a number of other countries the industry is regarded as separate from mainstream mining and is defined rather as Construction Materials Quarrying. It therefore takes into consideration the industry’s role as a key material supplier for the construction industry and acknowledges the materials importance in the building of roads, railways, infrastructure and housing.
“It also tackles legislation that is specific to the types of equipment found on these sites, covers relevant health, safety and environmental issues, as well as defining taxation, royalties etc in a different light compared with mainstream mining.With our own set of rules and regulations we can also begin addressing issues that affect our industry head-on rather than adapting our response to an industry that is similar, but not the same.
“For example, we can formulate sector specific skills development plans and work with government departments at all levels to eradicate illegal mining. More importantly we can work in parallel with government and the construction industry to ensure the success of future construction and infrastructure projects on a national and local scale,” he says.
Towing the line
Coffee concludes that in the past two decades since the formation of Aspasa,the association has actively worked with all role-players to establish acceptable working codes and best practices. It has also taken safety, health and environmental ethics on its quarries to world-class standards and has implemented annual audits to ensure members comply with its own strict guidelines as well as complying with all legal and statutory requirements.
“As a key role-player in the mining industry, a member of the Chamber of Mines executive committee and active role-player on various government and industry panels, we believe that the time has come for us to define our own sector with our own rules designed to protect and promote companies and individuals within the quarrying industry.”