More than half of illegal mining suspects are foreign nationals, Justice Cluster finds

10th November 2023 By: Marleny Arnoldi - Deputy Editor Online

More than half of illegal mining suspects are foreign nationals, Justice Cluster finds

Photo by: Bloomberg

A team comprising representatives of many government departments and State entities has made progress in curbing the scourge of illegal mining in South Africa, with 4 067 suspects having been arrested on illegal mining-related charges.

Police Minister Bheki Cele, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise and Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola on November 10 hosted a media briefing to provide an update on the progress made in combatting illegal mining and associated crimes.

The illegal mining combat team includes the departments of Police, Justice and Correctional Services; Social Development; Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment; Defence; Home Affairs; and Mineral Resources and Energy, as well as State entities such as the State Security Agency and the National Prosecuting Authority.

Notably, President Cyril Ramaphosa on November 9 authorised the deployment of 3 300 national defence force members across all provinces to April 28, 2024, to intensify anti-criminality operations against illegal mining.

The Ministers agree that illegal mining has a detrimental financial impact on the State, employees, companies, the sector and the economy owing to loss of revenue, and that criminals must be dealt with decisively.

The Ministers find that, of the 4 067 suspects that have been arrested on illegal mining-related charges, 2 739 of them are foreign nationals from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Kenya, Pakistan and Uganda.

These arrests indicate the multinational nature of illegal mining. Modise said these criminals were being dealt with harshly, regardless of nationality. “We will not become diplomatic when our economy is being attacked through these acts,” she stated.

Cabinet's Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Ministerial Cluster is not only targeting arrests of foot soldiers, but arrests and convictions of ringleaders, the shutdown of illegal markets and apprehension of sellers of the mined material.

The authorities have also seized many vehicles and pieces of mining equipment from illegal mining operations.

For example, from April to October this year, 12 prison orders were obtained to the value of R16-million, and one forfeiture to the value of R670 000.

Modise said the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy was focusing on sealing old mine shafts. There are 6 100 derelict mines in South Africa, with many of them being ownerless, or with owners who cannot be traced.

Notably, there are 1 170 mine openings nationally, of which 518 of them are located in Gauteng.

The mines that still have economic value are being granted to artisanal miners using a legal process overseen by Minerals Council South Africa.

Modise confirmed that government was also planning to review legislation to intensify the role that provinces and local communities can play in curbing illegal mining.

The Ministers agreed that communities have an important role to play in combatting organised crime and illegal mining through exposure and reporting of these activities and suspects to law enforcement agencies.

Particularly, Cele said, community policing forums have received additional funds to help defeat illegal mining-related crime in hotspot areas.

Lamola said that, as of November, there were 4 068 cases related to the Immigration Act outstanding on the criminal court roll. He affirmed that the conviction rate with regard to these types of crimes was rising in the justice system.

In response to a question about whether foreign nationals under investigation were being deported or detained locally, Lamola said it varied from case to case but that Home Affairs’ capacity to undertake deportations had been ramped up through funds for ten minibus vehicles to conduct this work.

Cele and Modise confirmed that government had engaged with the Ministers of neighbouring countries on the matter, particularly those of Lesotho and Mozambique, to help stop the scourge of illegal mining by foreign nationals in South Africa.

Modise pointed out that there was a bigger conversation to be had about police making arrests but the courts letting people go, and the acts of illegal mining impacting on the work of other departments such as Human Settlements and Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities.