JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – With industrial mining on the decline, smaller- to medium-scale mining operations are the future, according to Bench Marks Foundation South Africa lead researcher David van Wyk.
Addressing delegates at the Science Business Society Dialogue Conference on Linking Science, Society, Business and Policy for the Sustainable Use of Abandoned Mines in the Southern African Development Community Region, in Johannesburg, on Wednesday, Van Wyk added that, as formal mining decreases, informal mining will increase. However, he highlighted the need for the transition from large-scale, industrial mining to small-scale mining to be “orderly, sensible and safe”.
In his presentation, titled ‘The Legacy of Mining: Perspectives on Past Practices and Future Options – A community-centred view from South Africa’, Van Wyk noted that about 36 000 people are currently involved in small-scale mining in the Johannesburg area, while about 400 000 people are dependent on this type of mining, according to Bench Marks Foundation’s calculations.
As part of his solution for a smooth transition from large- to small-scale mining, Van Wyk suggested that zamas zamas be organised into small legal business entities as cooperatives.
He further suggested that these cooperatives be supported financially by the State and that they be provided with the required education and training to be able to execute activities in a safer manner.
This support could be done through the mining sector education and training fund, Van Wyk posited.
He further suggested that small operations of between three and five operations be clustered together geographically, and for each cluster to be assigned an engineer, a geologist and a health and safety officer to ensure safe operations.
Van Wyk added that the Bench Marks Foundation wanted to create an independent fund from which communities can draw to employ their own environmental experts, health and safety officers and geologists and for them “to be able to sit with the large mining corporations and speak from the same level of knowledge and information as that of these corporations”.
Other solutions to ensure a smooth transition from large-scale to small-scale mining include the establishment of a central buying agency on the demand side, which will sell to the State and will buy all the gold from the small-scale operations at market value. This could, in turn, eliminate the gangs and syndicates that take the gold, Van Wyk said.
Further, there should be regular health and safety inspections at these operations.
“We [also] believe that formal supply chains should be created around these small operations and that nearby communities should be involved in those supply chains, so that there is a ripple effect from them [and small enterprise development],” he noted, adding that small-scale mining is the freest market economy in South Africa, as it is not monopolised or concentrated.
Van Wyk warned, however, that if small-scale and informal mining is not regulated and brought under control, “South Africa will turn into the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it will lead to war and conflict over minerals and South Africa will move quickly to an utterly failed State”.
“It is essential that we pay attention to this,” he stressed.