The death of illegal miners on an abandoned mine on the East Rand of Johannesburg, highlighted the need to identify and shut down rogue operations swiftly to prevent further loss of life, says voluntary membership organisation Aggregate and Sand Producers Association of Southern Africa (Aspasa) director Nico Pienaar.
Illegal mining also has a detrimental effect on the environment, the health and safety of workers and communities in the surrounding areas of the illegal operations. It also erodes the profitability of legal operations and in some instances even gives illegal operations a price advantage owing to their disregard of legal requirements.
For this reason, Aspasa wants to table discussions on illegal mining at industry strategic think-tank, the Mining Lekgotla, which will run from August 27 to 29 at the Sandton Convention Centre.
“Contrary to popular belief, illegal mining is not always practised by wheelbarrow-brigade-type miners with rudimentary tools, but also undertaken in broad daylight by sophisticated syndicates and even some municipalities,” he says.
He adds that without the required authorisations no mineral, regardless of its value or purpose, may be mined in South Africa. “People mistakenly think they can remove ground or minerals wherever they want to, but this is not the case. The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act states that once a material is taken away from its natural state and put in another form, it is being mined.
“People need to go through the same process as legal mining operations to receive the necessary permission to mine any material. 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 Depart- ment of Mineral Resources,” says Pienaar.
Mining for gold, coal, clay or aggregates needs to be carried out legally and in a manner that does not harm the environment, or 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, he adds.
“All stakeholders within the mining sector have a role to play to prevent illegal mining and quarrying operations. They have a massively unfair advantage over legal operators in the indus- try. 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 causing damage to the environment without fear of retribution.
“If we are able to stop illegal operations, we will also be in a better position to ensure that sustainable practices are upheld, not only in terms of the economic development of the industry, but also ensuring the environment is protected for future generations,” concludes Pienaar.