The Plight of Illegal Mining in South Africa

12 April 2014

Illegal mining in South Africa does not only rob the mining industry of potential billions every year, there are also concerns that the activity could weaken the pillars that hold up the shafts and cause roads and buildings to collapse. There are many disused mine shafts beneath the roads and towns of Johannesburg, going out as far as Roodepoort in the west and Malvern in the East. Apprehensions have been voiced by business owners whose businesses were built over these disused mine shafts and are under threat of collapsing because of illegal miners pillaging beneath them every day. Should these pillars continue to be whittled away, they will ultimately buckle under the strain of the infrastructure that is built over them and disaster will ensue.

These illegal miners, often referred to as zamazama's (which loosely translates to "try your luck") risk life and limb and can spend up to weeks, and even months, underground to eke out a living. It is reported that a zamazama can make between R200 000 and R400 000 from a six-month period underground. The prospect of such earnings, aggravated by the socio-economic state of our country, means that many are drawn to this lethal trade despite the many fatal dangers that they face by doing so. Even the arm of the law is not strong enough to prevent them, as many return to their deeds within months of being released from prison.

In March 2012, 22 illegal miners lost their lives due to an underground rockfall in an abandoned mine in Gauteng's East Rand and 91 were killed by an underground fire in Harmony Gold Mining mine in the Free State in June 2009.Clashes between illegal miners and security personnel, as well as between rival gangs duelling over turf, are not uncommon andcountless other dangers exist underground, such as toxic gas inhalation, explosions and rock bursts. Yet none of these perils do much to deter the desperate illegal miner from endangering his life to make a living under these conditions.

Illegal mining is now recognised as a highly organised crime which can be broken into several levels the lowest level being that of the individual illegal miner and the highest being that of the international buyers. Criminal mining creates a ripple effect of other illegal activities, such as human trafficking, bribery and corruption, money laundering and smuggling. It robs the mining company of assets, as equipment and explosives are often stolen from the mine. It robs the state, due to decreased revenue from taxes for government. It also robs families of their breadwinners.

The scourge of illegal miners in South Africa has become so difficult to control and eliminate that some mines have taken the drastic step of prohibiting their legal workforce from taking any food with them underground as it is suspected that this food can be given or sold to illegal miners. Security has been tremendously upgraded at many shafts and efforts have also been made by mining companies to engage with their legal workforce and warn them of the dangers of collusion with illegal miners. These efforts have paid off as Harmony Gold has stated that the number of reported incidents of illegal mining have decreased in their Free State Operations.

Disebo Letanta

Related Topics:

  • Mining
  • Crime
  • Send us an Email Like us on Facebook Like us on Twitter Connect with us on LinkedIn © 2019 Cognisance Magazine | Insight for the Driven