Zama-Zamas cost SA nearly R50bn, says Mantashe

Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe focused his address on efforts to curb illicit mining activities. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane / Independent Newspapers

Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe focused his address on efforts to curb illicit mining activities. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane / Independent Newspapers

Published Feb 6, 2024


On the day commemorating eight years since the Lily Mine tragedy, concerns over deaths, injuries and billions of rand being lost every year due to rampant illicit mining activities were among the issues topping the agenda at the 30th Investing in African Mining Indaba at the Cape Town International Convention (CTICC).

About 8 000 delegates were in attendance for the first day of the indaba on Monday, with 11 000 people registered to attend from 126 countries.

Monday’s proceedings came exactly eight years after Solomon Nyirenda, Pretty Nkambule and Yvonne Mnisi were engulfed in a sinkhole at Lily Mine in Mpumalanga.

Their families have yet to find closure because efforts to retrieve their bodies failed. The mine could face litigation, according to ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba.

During Monday’s commemoration, he said: “Ever since I visited the mine in 2020, where the victim’s family camped outside at the mine, I have vowed to bring justice to the families by ensuring that the mineshaft be reopened to retrieve the container in which the three victims were entombed, securing compensation for the families of the affected miners, and ensuring that those who are liable for the tragedy are criminally prosecuted.”

At the CTICC, Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe focused his address on efforts to curb illicit mining activities, saying the majority of those arrested were from neighbouring countries such as Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

“These criminals are likened to those who commit organised crime, like cash heists blowing ATMs. Hence, President Cyril Ramaphosa authorised that police specialised teams are supported by the SANDF in operations against illegal mining activities.

“When we look at the arrests it’s very few South Africans, majority are neighbouring countries. So this thing we have been hearing that illegal mining is an issue of poverty and the government must issue licences cannot be. That is what we are dealing with. At last count more than R49 billion was lost and that is why illegal mining is a war on the economy. It leaves it bleeding,” said Mantashe.

According to Harmony Gold, the largest gold mining company in South Africa, the company managed to apprehend 6 590 illegal miners, including kingpins, between 2007 and 2020.

The company’s executive director, Dr Mashego Mashego, also stated that over the same period more than 1 200 illegal miners had been found injured and 641 had been found dead.

“This is an organised crime where criminals are heavily armed. Illegal mining has different tiers or criminal hierarchies, the least which is one until the top bosses. It is called illegal mining because criminals commit crime, there cannot be negotiations with criminals. Specialised units and international co-operation is needed as some of the people arrested are not from South Africa,” said Mashego.

He explained that as part of addressing the issue, Harmony Gold had to close off unused mines as they gave access to operating mines through interconnecting tunnels.

Working with local communities around its properties, the company managed to seal about 50 disused mine shafts.

While the challenge persists, strides have been made since the establishment of the specialised police unit, leading not only to arrests but prosecutions and convictions, said President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, through Mintek, continues to seal ownerless and derelict mines. Since 2019, the department has closed and sealed 251 derelict holes and shafts. Over the next three years, the department intends to close a further 352 shafts. Criminal activity, and copper cable theft, in particular, has also had a serious impact on key rail freight corridors, including the supply of coal for export through Richards Bay. Co-operation between the private sector, Transnet and the security services has resulted in an improvement in the security situation over recent months,” he said.

A leading mining law expert, Herbert Smith Freehills’s Patrick Leyden, said the challenges faced by the South African mining industry were affecting the country’s ability to attract investment into the mining sector, particularly into much-needed greenfield and exploration projects.

“A glaring omission is the challenge of illegal mining, which is costing the fiscus and private sector billions of rand annually.

While the minister’s and president’s proposed solutions to these issues are laudable, the timing and actual implementation of these proposals remains key. As they say: the proof is in the proverbial pudding,” said Leyden.

Minerals Council South Africa’s president, Nolitha Fakude, emphasised that unless crime, corruption and illegal mining were not addressed properly, the country’s economy would not stabilise.

The Mining Indaba is on until Thursday.

Cape Times