JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Illegal mining has reduced drastically in Mpumalanga, the Free State and Gauteng since Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu established Illegal Mining Stakeholder forums in 2009; however, this practice still remains a threat within the South African mining sector.
Shabangu stated in September, during a visit to Matholesville residents, near Roodepoort, to discuss the progress made in curbing illegal mining, that the country was losing significant revenue as a result of illegal mining activities, but noted that progress was being made in attempts to stop illegal mining on the West Rand, following the arrest of 15 illegal miners and 135 illegal immigrants and the seizure of 1 135 bags of sand and gold concentrate in September.
According to the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR), a study conducted in 2008 reveals that the gold sector and the country could be losing an estimated R5.6-billion a year in revenue, as a result of illegal mining.
The stakeholder forums aim to address the illegal mining activities that plague the industry. The DMR-led forums continuously identify and seal open shafts and conduct operations to combat illegal mining and arrest illegal miners on a monthly basis.
International security solutions group G4S Africa operational director for mining Fritz Kruger believes that the threat of illegal mining will increase only as a result of mine closures and work dismissals, which will force unemployed skilled mineworkers to seek alternative means of income using the skills they have.
However, the DMR states that most illegal miners are foreign nationals from Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Mozambique. Shabangu stated in September that those arrested for illegal mining would not pay a fine and be released, but would be sent to prison.
“Those who are illegally in the country will serve their sentence and be deported once they complete the jail term,” she said.
G4S mining business development manager Johann Fourie notes that while areas close to neighbouring countries’ borders attract foreign nationals, the involvement of local nationals is always determined by the type of commodity, the access to offset markets and law enforcement capabilities in the area.
“Organised crime syndicates operate on a global scale, creating the offset market and enticing locals and foreigners to get involved in illegal mining activities, making it difficult to determine the ratio between foreign and local illegal miners,” he says.
IMPACT ON INDUSTRY
Fourie adds that illegal mining occurs predominantly in the gold, platinum and diamond sectors, but semiprecious stones, such as wesselite, are also mined illegally.
However, he says the impact of illegal mining is not only commodity-based but also includes the chemicals, resources, materials and equipment associated with mining, as these are stolen from mines and sold.
Further, a holistic understanding of the threat of illegal mining is important in dealing with the issue. Kruger says the primary indicator for measuring the losses through illegal mining is to determine the actual value of recoveries; however, this does not provide an accurate loss value.
Another factor is productivity losses as a result of health, safety, environmental and community incidents, as well as sabotage and accidents leading to fatalities, where the mine has to be closed down for government investigations, which sometimes have a much greater impact on the business performance of a mine.
While the DMR acknowledges that there is a negative impact as a result of illegal mining activities, it states that there has never been a mine that was closed for government investigations as a result of accidents involving illegal miners. The DMR notes that it collaborates with the South African Police Service (SAPS) on investigations pertaining to illegal mining.
Meanwhile, Kruger notes that the allocation of appropriate funding to secure mine assets by implementing proactive security measures becomes critical in the war against illegal mining.
These proactive security measures include all aspects of security and risk management and begin with standard physical security, electronic security measures, reliable information management systems, whistle-blower channels, professionally trained security staff and a robust security management strategy designed to focus on people, processes and systems.
Meanwhile, a major gold miner that wishes to remain anonymous states that illegal mining is an ongoing problem that is not exclusive to the company, specific provinces or a commodity.
The miner says it affects employee safety, as illegal miners work and live underground, which is unsafe.
Illegal miners also attack employees and the personnel of mine security and the SAPS.
The company notes that its employees are threatened physically for food, working tools and access to mine equipment.
“Illegal miners are injured owing to their unsafe practices, leaving it to the company to arrange for their rescue and/or the recovery of the bodies of deceased miners. Besides trespassing, the issues of human trafficking, smuggling, money laundering, bribery and corruption all affect the company,” it says.
The security and business risks for the company as a result of illegal mining include the loss of prime products, equipment, copper cables, explosives and capital, as well as the closure of mines as a result of explosives use violations and fatalities.
DMR spokesperson Ayanda Shezi adds that it is important to eradicate illegal mining, as it leads to loss of life and has a negative impact on the environment, as well as the revenue of the mining sector and the country.
CURBING THE THREAT
JSE-listed gold producer Sibanye Gold security arm Sibanye Gold Protection Services (SGPS) VP Nash Lutchman says, although illegal mining is probably a concern with regard to all the miner’s operations, the Kloof operation on the West Rand is affected the most.
He adds that illegal mining poses a threat to Sibanye Gold in terms of employees’ health and safety, damage to infrastructure, and the loss in reserves and production across all its operations.
However, SGPS is effectively dealing with the issue using available resources.
“Our employees are fully trained to provide mining security in general, and we have a team of people specifically trained to deal with this problem. The specialised SGPS team has the appropriate level of personal protection and security equipment,” he says.
Further, the miner has invested in biometric systems in high-risk areas at its Kloof mine; improved control of underground safety equipment, such as cap lamps and self-rescuers; a heightened focus on, and better detection of, food, batteries, medicine and other contraband entering underground workings to assist illegal miners; and the identification and removal of access opportunities to the underground workings, other than through the approved access points.
SGPS sends out various awareness briefs to its stakeholders and continues to launch awareness campaigns about the scourge. It has also established better cooperation and a working relationship with the police and the courts regarding its operations. It has also gained a better understanding of illegal mining within Sibanye Gold and how it impacts the company.
Sibanye Gold also participates actively on various forums, such as the SAPS’s Mine Crime Combating Forum, the DMR’s Gauteng Illegal Mining Stakeholder Forum and the National Precious Metals Forum.
Lutchman believes that the SAPS can play a role in the fight against illegal mining through better policing and the detection of individuals, groups and organised criminal syndicates that trade illicitly in precious metals and stones.
He notes that the illicit trade is currently rampant and petty theft of product and illegal mining activities thrive because of this.
Shezi says the SAPS currently participates in forums such as the Illegal Mining Stakeholder Forum and collaborates with mining companies and the DMR to further curb illegal mining. Further, the DMR and its stakeholder forums are clamping down on illegal mining activities on the West Rand by demolishing illegal mining infrastructure, confiscating gold-bearing material, arresting illegal miners, deporting illegal immigrants and stopping the illegal connection of water.
Shezi says these activities take place on a weekly basis.
Kruger notes that illegal mining is an industry on its own and high prices are paid to these workers to gain access to the product on a mine, resulting in security staff becoming targets of violence.
“Where entry to such areas can be authorised electronically, based on fingerprint scanners and facial recognition by cameras, success rates in curbing illegal entry because of collusion and corruption have been good.
“However, various instances exist where complex mining operations require specialised intervention and clearing teams to ensure mines are secured. G4S has specialised teams, trained in all aspects of response and rescues, with the required skills, to undertake mine sweeping. Each mining operation presents different challenges and these are taken into consideration when we execute preventive operations,” he explains.
G4S believes in approaching illegal mining from a preventive, rather than a reactive, perspective. Kruger adds that by establishing sound practices in access control and perimeter security, as well as early warning and detection systems, the presence of illegal miners on site can be drastically reduced or even prevented.
The anonymous gold miner adds that it has taken proactive steps to combat illegal mining.
These include the introduction of biometric scanners at most of its mines, the deployment of additional security guards at shaft entrances, the seizure of money found on miners going underground and a daily inspection of material cars on shaft heads for food parcels and illegal entries.
The company has also involved stakeholders, such as the surrounding communities at mines, businesses and the local council, to participate in combating illegal mining.
The miner also participates in the DMR’s stakeholder forums and has held several meetings with the Department of Justice, the SAPS and the National Prosecuting Authority.
“The safety of our employees comes first and we will continue our participation in the Illegal Mining Stakeholder Forum. Ongoing stakeholder participation and action are required, as illegal mining needs to be acknowledged by all because the cost of managing the problem is becoming excessive and we have to remain viable as a business,” the gold miner said.