The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) yesterday said mining companies must be held liable to undertake proper rehabilitation and safeguard their areas in the face of illegal mining.
Illegal mining in South Africa was untenable as there was no due regard for public safety, resulted in environmental damage and damaged public infrastructure, DMRE director for Enforcement and Compliance, Nqobile Khanyile, said in a webinar yesterday.
“Sometimes these activities occur in close proximity to Transnet pipelines that contain gas and some of them have petroleum products.“
“But it should also be a concern to South Africans as well because it is our public infrastructure that is damaged and the human rights of the people who live close to this area that are violated as a result of all the criminality surrounding illegal mining,” she said.
The environmental effects resulting from mining could not be necessarily quantified because the extent and scale of such impacts go beyond where these activities take place.
When dealing with processing gold using mercury, this substance had a huge impact on the development of cancer on unborn children and was highly poisonous. For people who were reliant on natural water from streams in settlements that do not have water infrastructure for their livelihoods, exposure to mercury in this way was dangerous, she said.
The scourge of illegal mining was of grave concern to the country and DMRE is the custodian of mineral resources.
Khanyile is speaking at a time when violence by illegal miners has escalated in Gauteng with parliamentarians and the public calling for the DMRE to clamp down on the activity.
Khanyile said the government had looked at different options to deal with this issue.
“This has a big history considering where the country comes from and the issues surrounding unemployment, poverty and job creation. We have seen that the people who are being used are exploited because of their economic situation,” she said.
The department said the government had to deal with the realities of unemployment in the country and find mechanisms to support communities and citizens from participating in this industry because the mineral resources were a common heritage of all South Africans.
The economic wealth should be distributed within the mining sector and also to ensure that there were other people who derived economic benefits from participating in mining.
The DMRE said it was looking at mining opportunities where people currently had rights granted. Mining companies should start rehabilitation programmes as it was their obligation as holders of one type of a permit or another.
Companies must be held liable and undertake rehabilitation and safeguard their areas.
The DMRE said environmental liabilities had to be attended to, however, often companies were quick to go into business rescue and voluntarily liquidate them to evade the responsibility to rehabilitate.
Once companies were liquidated, whatever provision DMRE had in its provision could then be dispatched to those areas, however, this might not be sufficient to deal with the environmental harm caused by the companies.
“This then puts the state in a position where it has to tap in the fiscus to provide additional resources to manage the environment in the affected areas abandoned by mining companies,” it said.
DMRE said it was now going to look at where there had been contravention of the legislation, especially, by existing holders.
“We are now going to start approaching the relevant mechanisms from the Act and deploy them as opposed to having the fiscus paying for the environmental harm caused by companies,” it said.
Benchmark Foundation Lead Researcher David van Wyk said that they were involved in discussions with DMRE with regard to concurrent and post mining economics and this was a debate that must go forward and be practicalities.
"I did not hear much discussion about the potential that old mines have for economic development beyond mining. We need to begin discussing that. We also need to discuss the fact that the central, eastern and western void in Johannesburg is filling up with water. In some places the acid water which is radioactive is bubbling up as radioactive even in school yards, playgrounds etc. The water in those need to be pumped, that in itself is an economic activity that is a potential job creator,“ Van Wyk said.