DISUSED SECUNDA GOLD MINES BECOME ZAMA ZAMA Illegal mining continues apace and stakeholders should consider solutions to prevent the negative impacts of this desperate activity
Mpumalanga’s disused gold mines in the Secunda area are becoming the next hot spot for “zama zamas”, or illegal miners, many of them foreigners from countries such as Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Late last month, Mpumalanga police arrested a wellprepared army of 197 Lesotho nationals, aged between 16 and 68, with 20 pickaxes, 13 shovels and two unlicensed firearms, at Evander, Embalenhle and Osizweni informal settlements.
Just three years ago, the police arrested 109 foreign nationals from Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Mozambique en masse in the same area.
These illegal miners have also been responsible for escalating violence as a result of rival gang wars.
Other Mpumalanga hot spots saturated with illegal gold miners are Barberton and Ermelo, for coal.
Further gold mining hot spots in the country can be found in Gauteng and Free State.
In Limpopo illegal miners target chrome and sand, in the Northern Cape diamonds, and in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal sand.
Illegal mining, according to a Chamber of Mines 2016 study, costs the mining industry and fiscus more than an estimated R20 billion a year in lost sales, taxes and royalties.
Mpumalanga police spokesperson Brigadier Leonard Hlathi said the Lesotho nationals were fined R1 200 each or two months’ imprisonment, when they appeared in the Secunda Magistrates’ Court.
Hlathi said that illegal mining was on the rise in the Secunda area. “There must be a permanent solution to this problem and the police can’t fight this alone. We often arrest them [the zama zamas] when we do our operations, but they pay the fines and come back,” he said.
Hlathi said that, unlike the illegal miners in Barberton who dig underground, in Secunda they scratch on the surface of mounds of soil left by old mines. There are no open shafts of disused mines, he said.
Department of mineral resources (DMR) spokesperson Martin Madlala did not respond to questions seeking clarity on the department’s plan to fight and end illegal mining in the country and on whether there was a suggestion to formalise small-scale mining so that the state could recoup some tax.
Chamber of Mines’ senior executive of employment relations Dr Elize Strydom said that illegal mining was a complex matter that needed all stakeholders to sit around the table and find solutions.
She said the chamber believed that illegal miners had to be incorporated into mainstream mining to operate within the ambit of the law.
“DMR and other stakeholders must see if nothing can be crafted to ensure that small-scale miners operate legally. We can’t condone their breaking of the law, violence and working for cartels, but we must look into how we can bring them into the fold.”
Strydom said that tailor-made health and safety regulations for small-scale miners would have to be developed, since they would be operating differently from mining corporations.
The Chamber of Mines report analyses not only the economic impacts of illegal mining, but also social and environmental ones.
On economic impact, the report points out that theft of copper, electric cables, diesel and materials prejudiced the economic viability of companies. Other costs that need to increase as a result of illegal mining involve security and commissioning of rescue services.
The social impacts had to do with the influx of illegal immigrants, as 90% of arrested zama zamas were undocumented immigrants. The report said that an increase in crime and illegal trade were two of the negative impacts. It indicates that the environmental impacts include sabotaged pipelines that contaminate the environment; illegal water usage and wastage; sinkholes created due to water pipelines; mercury contamination of the environment; and excavation and reopening of sealed and rehabilitated shafts.