Durban - As illegal sand mining escalates in KwaZulu-Natal, the government has turned to the courts for assistance to curb the practice.
The Department of Water and Sanitation said last week it was getting the high court to interdict illegal miners and force them to rehabilitate affected rivers.
The department was also engaging with traditional leaders in an effort to stop the degradation of rivers and impact on water infrastructure and supply.
The department came under attack from a rural community on the South Coast in November 2014 when it tried to stop them from sand mining on the Illovo River. Community members burnt truck tyres, hurled insults and chanted struggle songs.
Local leader Bhekizitha Shange accused the government of stopping them from making an “honest living”.
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Daniel Peters, the yard manager of a company mining sand on the uThongathi River, said the department should be assisting the miners to get licences instead of closing down their “bread-and-butter” businesses.
The department’s provincial head, Ashley Starkey, said companies needed to have water-use licences from the department and also approach the Department of Mineral Resources to get mining licences. It would be illegal to mine sand without both the licences.
An environment inspector from the department had identified Peters’s company as one of the illegal miners in the province.
Peters said the department visited his plant twice last year. On the first visit they were “intimidated”, as police vehicles accompanied department officials.
“They asked me questions about our mining activities and said, ‘We are watching you,’ before they left. On the second visit they told us not to pile up the sand in the middle of the river because it would divert the water.”
He could not say whether the company had a mining licence, but said he was complying with the law.
A telephone number for the owner of the company rang unanswered.
“We do not interfere with the environment. People still come here to fish and crocodiles are still here,” he said.
The department said the most-affected rivers in the province were the Mvoti, uThongathi, uMdloti, uMngeni, Illovo, Mzumbe and uMthwalume Rivers.
“[This is] not to say the other rivers are free of this illegal activity,” it said.
It said the mining had contributed to the drought.
Peters said applying for a mining licence was a painful and expensive exercise, which led to people mining illegally.
“First you have to find an independent consultant to conduct an environmental assessment on the river where you intend to mine.
“This costs between R400 000 and R500 000.
“ The consultant would then give a thick report, which you forward to the department with an application and business plan.
“Then you wait up to 18 months only to receive a reply rejecting your application. You don’t get any refund because the consultant has done his work.
“Tell me why wouldn’t I go for illegal mining?” he said.
Starkey said the Green Scorpions had opened criminal charged against companies illegally trading in sand.
“These people are making millions without even paying tax. And they block rivers from flowing freely.
“It is a criminal offence and people are being charged,” Starkey said.