In the wake of the gruesome rape and robbery at a mining dump in Krugersdorp recently, the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) held a ministerial briefing yesterday to hear what the departments of Police, Mineral Recourses and Home Affairs are doing to address the root causes of this criminality to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.

In his opening address, the Chairperson of the NCOP, Mr Amos Masondo, explained that the NCOP called the briefing because illegal mining has reached crisis proportions and now threatens legal mining operations. The NCOP calls on the relevant government departments to act to address this criminal activity, as it is threatening the country’s economic wellbeing.

Mr Nyambi suggested a mining artisanship training programme to formalise mining skills as a form of creating employment within the industry. He also mentioned the need to secure South Africa’s borders and commended the police for the swift arrest of illegal miners at the Krugersdorp mine dump. He also told Krugersdorp communities how important it was not to take the law into their own hands.

Also participating in the briefing, the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Mr Gwede Mantashe, emphasised that the government has established a special unit to deal with illegal mining, as the United Nations predicts that South Africa could lose as much as R41 billion in revenue as a result of this activity.

Talking about what the department is doing to protect the country from the dangers posed by derelict mines, Minister Mantashe said that closing decommissioned mines is an ongoing operation with, among others, 135 mining holes closed on the Witwatersrand. As for the Krugersdorp mine where the incident took place, Mr Mantashe pointed out that Mogale Gold had been appointed to deal with the rehabilitation and closure of mining holes in that area, but it had gone into liquidation.

“It’s better for the NCOP members to visit various sites we are working on to have a better picture of what is happening on the ground, to see that the rehabilitation and closure of mine holes is a work in progress,” he added.

To counter claims that the police do not take illegal mining seriously enough the Minister of Police, Mr Bheki Cele, reminded the NCOP briefing that a special task team was established by the police in 2019 to deal with illegal mining. This has led to the arrest of 4 675 illegal miners so far. He also dispelled the claim that illegal mining arises due to unemployment, saying instead that it is run by criminal syndicates and is an economic crime.

The police are now working with a private security company to secure the Krugersdorp area in question and a government-wide multidisciplinary task team has, to date, led to the arrest of 350 illegal immigrants at the site. Furthermore, seven people have been arrested and charged in connection with the crime, but they have yet to appear in court. What is outstanding, he said, is the positive identification of the accused through DNA samples in order for the men to be positively linked to the incident.

 Another issue raised by Mr Cele is the trade flows involved in the illicit gold mining industry. The Directorate of Priority Crime Investigations is investigating to find out more about the industry so that these criminals are caught and face justice.

The Department of Home Affairs Director-General, Mr Tommy Makhode, reported on engagements with stakeholders in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Botswana to discuss the involvement of their nationals in crime in South Africa. The department is seeking to speedily repatriate those charged with criminality in South Africa and to deter more illegal migration, “the Boarder Management Agency is ready to operate as a standalone entity to discharge its border management responsibilities, which will assist in addressing our porous borders.”

Bringing the South African Local Government Association’s (SALGA) perspective to the debate, SALGA’s Mr Jongizizwe Dlabathi called for a community-centred partnership approach in the fight against illegal mining. “Community members, community safety forums and multi-stakeholder platforms must be formed for joint implementation, monitoring and coordination efforts to build safer communities bordering old and derelict mines.”  

In his closing remarks, the Chief Whip of the NCOP, Mr Seiso Mohai, stressed that the recent atrocities heightened public discourse on illegal mining and its attended criminality. While the collective efforts of police and home affairs in dealing with illegal immigration are noted, Mr Nyambi called for a review of police capacity to deal with illegal mining. He also urged mining companies to commit to the closure of their unused mines.

For the NCOP’s part going forward, NCOP committees will design oversight actions and monitor the impact of departments’ interventions. Mr Mohai further said that the departments of Home Affairs and Police must rid themselves of rogue elements in their ranks, as illegal miners “have eyes and ears within the system”. Cooperation within the South African Development Community is essential in this regard, because “the level of training and military sophistication used by illegal miners poses a threat to South Africa’s national security”.

Abel Mputing
12 August 2022