The ever-increasing trend of illegal miners using explosives near public infrastructure has seriously compromised the safety of residents and businesses, said City of Johannesburg communications specialist Virgil James.
He explained that the City is concerned about the impending threat posed by illegal mining syndicates, with blast activity reported at decommissioned mines across the city, including along the M2 highway, the M1 double-decker bridge, the Main Reef and Nasrec roads, as well as the FNB stadium, where the Transnet bulk fuel supply and Sasol gas pipelines traverse.
James commented that the use of explosives had “seriously” compromised public safety, with increased reports of tremors by residents and businesses, as well as the increased likelihood of a disaster in the area.
Last week, executive mayor Herman Mashaba called for immediate intervention by city officials, stakeholders, entities and public-sector policing to address this concern.
He said the use of explosives near pipelines carrying gas and fuel increased the risk to neighbouring communities, put services at risk and threatened the safety of city employees working along the pipelines within the servitudes.
“The explosives have also resulted in tremors, which [puts] the structural integrity of our roads, adjacent residential communities and businesses [at risk]. Illegal blasting can create a spark that can ignite a fire capable of incinerating [an area] of up to 300 m2,” he said.
Mashaba stressed that the illegal mining activities had “compromised the pillars that support the decommissioned mines” and that this had placed additional risk on the physical structures upon which the pipelines rest, as well as threatening the imminent collapse of the mine. “We can confirm that both Transnet Pipelines and Sasol gas pipes have been compromised,” he added.
He called for a collaborative crackdown operation comprising the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR), the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) and the Department of Roads and Transport, as well as the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD), the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Hawks to halt illegal mining activities. Mashaba also sent a report to the Minister of Energy to “urgently and seriously open discussions on the matter.”
When he spoke on Radio 702 on November 22, he suggested that a disaster was “bound to happen” unless the matter was dealt with proactively.
James added that illegal mining and the danger it posed to the public had become a “huge” problem, as illegal mining had gone largely unchecked. He noted that, while the activities had been occurring in the city, “it requires joint responsibility by different spheres of government”.
He said that the established Infrastructure Protection Unit (IPU), which dealt with illegal mining activities as part of its scope and initially comprised the JMPD, the Emergency Medical Services and the SAPS, had been expanded to include the DMR, the DHA, Transnet, Sasol, the Hawks, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa and city entities, as well as mining houses, to find a comprehensive solution for this imminent danger.
He noted that, in the meantime, the IPU would conduct regular raids to arrest illegal miners, dismantle equipment, cut off water and electricity supply to these activities and close off digging.
However, he added: “The problem is that the illegal miners are syndicated and have support from the immediate community who supply water and electricity at a fee and also act as intelligence for these miners; hence, the intention to engage the communities on the unseen danger. We will be embarking on an educational drive to make communities aware of these actions and the consequences via pamphlet distribution, engagements and tours.”
He noted that, while the city had an existing disaster management plan in place, the magnitude of the disaster should a pipe explode was unthinkable.