More than 6 000 “derelict and ownerless” mines in South Africa needed at least R49 billion for rehabilitation, according to Mineral Resources and Energy Minister, Gwede Mantashe.
Answering questions from MPs during a National Plenary discussion in Parliament on Thursday afternoon, Mantashe described illegal mining as “criminal activity”, also warning that it would “reach crisis proportions” if not abated.
The minister emphasised that illegal mining posed a “threat to national security, government authority and socio-economic development” in the country.
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“I want to demystify the thing of saying illegal mining is a function of poverty and hunger… it’s a function of criminality.
“Illegal mining is associated with very serious crimes such as illicit financial flows and high levels of violence, including gender-based violence and femicide.
“Furthermore, we have witnessed human trafficking, smuggling of weapons, and explosives linked to this crime,” he said.
Mantashe explained that illegal mining was historically associated with derelict as well as ownerless mines, which was now having an impact on operational and licensed mines.
“It is estimated that the South African economy and the mining sector lost approximately R49 billion in 2019 to illegal mining. It is further estimated that mining companies spend over R2 billion on security just to prevent these illicit activities,” he said.
The minister further highlighted the budgets constraints faced by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, which received R140 million per annual to rehabilitate approximately 6100 mines.
He said R49 billion was needed rehabilitate these mines.
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Mantashe previously indicated that around 40 mine holes were being sealed by Mintek every year.
“With this allocation, we can only rehabilitate at least three mines and seal off 40 shafts per year. The department has prioritised the rehabilitation of former asbestos mines because of the health hazards of asbestosis causing lung ailments, with a total of 270 derelict and ownerless asbestos mines,” he continued to say.
Approximately 135 holes in Gauteng have been closed over a three-year period.
“We intend to seal 20 holings in this financial year, prioritising the Krugersdorp area. We must appreciate that it would take a long time to completely rehabilitate all these mines at this rate, due to budget constraints, security threats to officials executing this programme,” he explained.
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‘War on our economy’
The minister said illegal miners were the “foot soldiers of organised crime,” and they must not be confused with those who engaged in artisanal and small-scale mining.
“Our support for artisanal and small-scale must not be misconstrued as support for illegal mining. We support mining for as long as it is done within the prescripts of our laws,” Mantashe told Parliament.
“We must always resist the temptation of equating illegal mining to artisanal and small-scale mining.
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“Artisanal mining is a formalised economic activity usually undertaken by citizens or documented inhabitants of a country.
“It must be clear that once an individual illegally enters our country and engages in illegal economic activity, such an individual cannot be sanitised through being issued with a small-scale mining licence.
“This is a war on our economy [because] it has become clear that illegal mining is run by syndicates with a direct linkage to illegal migration,” he added.
Having told the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) that the country needed a dedicated team to clamp down on illegal mining in the country last month, Mantashe announced the South African Police Service (Saps) would establish a specialised unit to combat the criminal activity.
The new security force, Mantashe said, will be a “multi-disciplinary unit” between the SAPS and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy.
“There is now alignment on how this unit should look like and operate. The Ministry of Police will at an appropriate time make the necessary announcements regarding the establishment of this unit,” Mantashe said.
Illegal mining has been in the spotlight over recent weeks following the brutal gang rape and robbery of eight women near an abandoned mine in Krugersdorp in July.
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