The Minerals Council South Africa believes the establishment of a dedicated police unit that will tackle illegal mining will stop the flow of these illegal activities.
The council said it has long lobbied for the establishment of such a policing unit but it has yet to be finalised.
The council which represents 78 mining companies, said this is because illegal mining brings crime, violence, intimidation, human trafficking, slavery, and corruption among officials.
The illegal miners, known as zama zamas, have been known to have survived underground for months in their quest to extract precious minerals such as gold, platinum and chrome.
Some have died in battles with rivals who rob others of what they have extracted.
The illegal miners have also been terrorising communities and committing heinous crimes, including rape, murder and electricity cable theft.
There are also reports that investigations into illegal mining syndicates linked some politicians in foreign countries where they fund election campaigns from the profits of illegal mining.
The Minerals Council head of communications Allan Seccombe said this also comes with social, environmental and economic consequences.
Seccombe said while security services focus on those conducting illicit actions of extracting minerals without a licence or permit, far more focus is needed to move higher up the criminal syndicates to arrest and prosecute the leaders of these organisations.
“The Minerals Council is encouraged by the renewed focus that illegal mining is receiving from the security cluster in recent months but we note the need for a dedicated police unit exclusively tackling illegal mining and working their way up the chain of command in the criminal syndicates,” said Seccombe.
He said the council has also requested specific laws be formulated to tackle illegal mining because the current laws do not specifically address the matter.
“When there are prosecutions of those engaged in illegal mining, the consequences are generally light and illegal miners are soon back at their work.”
“Illegal mining not only focuses on derelict and ownerless mines, which are under the remit of the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), but legal mining operations too. Mines spend more than R2.5 billion a year on securing their operations from illegal miners, attacks on their facilities by heavily armed gangs, and theft of infrastructure like copper, diesel and other materials,” said Seccombe, adding that the money is detrimental to tax flows to the fiscus, employees, communities and shareholders.
After five people were shot and killed in Riverlea, south of Johannesburg, over turf wars a few weeks ago while dozens of people from Jerusalema informal settlements in Florida had to sleep at a local police station after gangs of zama zamas were involved in gun battles, Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi on Monday came out and called for the deployment of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and other law enforcement agencies to address the problem of illegal mining in the province.
He said the province was under siege from people who were not citizens of the country, who could not be accounted for, and who were highly armed.
“And we expect that the problem can be resolved by police that patrol on a weekly basis?”, Lesufi asked.
However, security experts said the deployment of the army and other additional law enforcement is not a solution, saying there must be a bigger strategy to deal with the organised syndicates that are involved in illegal mining activities.
Institute for Security Studies (ISS) head of justice and violence prevention Gareth Newham said all the heads, including police officials and border guards who have been involved being arrested.
“And those who have been involved in storing, transporting and selling should also be arrested. Even top politicians who are involved should also be arrested. Focusing on zama zamas alone is not going to take us anywhere and they are replaceable. We have to get on top of the senior powerful people, in government and in private networks,” said Newham.
Criminologist Guy Lamb said the deployment of the army will not make a major difference unless the country has intelligence about the nature of these activities.
“So that we know the most dangerous miners are, where are they mining and what kind of weapons they have.”
But crime activist Ian Cameron said it is a good idea that the SANDF be deployed as this is not a normal crime. He said the zama zamas are extremely dangerous because they have incredible access to firearms, ammunition and explosives.
The DMRE recently said that illegal mining had cost the economy and the sector close to R49 billion.
As a result, the Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources and Energy this week embarked on a four-day oversight visit to illegal mining hotspots in North West and Gauteng. The committee visited the old Scot mine in Klerksdorp, Batlhako, and Ruighoek mines in Witrantjies Village outside Rustenburg and Riverlea in Gauteng.
The committee conducted these oversight visits to follow up on the recommendations of the joint oversight visit on the illegal mining report, which was adopted by the National Assembly in November 2022.
Some of the recommendations call upon the DMRE to collaborate with relevant stakeholders and demolish disused shafts at the old Scot mine and close all derelict open mine shafts in Riverlea by the end of September.