Specialised teams yielding results in combating illegal mining: Ramaphosa

13 November 2023 - 12:21
By Sisanda Mbolekwa
One of the backyard gold mining 'plants' at the Angelo informal settlement in Boksburg. File image
Image: Ziphozonke Lushaba One of the backyard gold mining 'plants' at the Angelo informal settlement in Boksburg. File image

President Cyril Ramaphosa hailed the fight against illegal mining, saying the government is seeing results.

He was reflecting on the progress reported by the justice, crime prevention and security cluster on curbing criminal activity and arresting those responsible.

Ramaphosa said a central part of the effort are the specialised illegal mining task teams set up by the South African Police Service (SAPS) last year to conduct operations against illegal mining and associated activities in hotspots around the country.

A number of intelligence-driven operations by these task teams, supported by the Hawks, have culminated in over 4,000 arrests for various offences related to illegal mining. Between April and August this year there have also been arrests of more than 7,000 suspects involved in illegal mining for contravening immigration regulations,” he said.

Ramaphosa said he recently authorised the deployment of 3,300 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) personnel to support the SAPS in its operations against illegal mining for a six-month period.

“This deployment will provide valuable support to the SAPS as it gains further ground. The SANDF deployment supports a multisectoral effort that brings together the SAPS, State Security Agency, the newly formed Border Management Authority and the departments of mineral resources and energy, home affairs, justice and constitutional development, environmental affairs and others.”

The president said illegal mining is linked to other crimes such as money laundering, bribery and corruption, illicit financial flows, and human and weapons trafficking.

“Recent incidents have shown some of the devastating effects of illegal mining on the safety of communities. These include the gang rapes last year of a group of women allegedly by illegal miners; an underground gas explosion at a disused mine in Welkom in May this year that killed 31 illegal miners; and a gas explosion linked to illegal mining activity at an informal settlement in Boksburg in July this year that claimed dozens of lives.”

Ramaphosa said government efforts to end illegal mining cannot focus only on the miners, but also on those further up the value chain who benefit.

“As minister Gwede Mantashe said last year, illegal miners are foot soldiers for criminal syndicates and must be dealt with like any other economic saboteurs. The disruptive operations that have been undertaken against these syndicates have resulted in the forfeiture of assets and freezing orders against the assets of suspects by the Hawks and the Asset Forfeiture Unit.

For this fight to be successful, the president urged everyone to play their part.

“Mining houses that don’t comply with the laws around the closure and rehabilitation of mines have contributed to the proliferation of illegal mining. There are approximately 6,100 derelict, unused or abandoned mines in South Africa. In some cases the mines are old and their owners cannot be traced, but in other cases miners have failed to honour their obligations to rehabilitate or close these mines.”

Ramaphosa welcomed the efforts of the Mineral Council of South Africa to support greater collaboration between government and the mining sector in tackling this problem.

“Our actions against illegal mining are part of a broader effort to tackle all crimes of economic sabotage, including cable theft, extortion at construction sites and other damage to critical infrastructure.”

Through the work of specialised task teams, the president said SAPS has made 61 arrests linked to extortion at economic and construction sites since April. Over the past four years, 27 people have been convicted and sentenced for such crimes. 

“Working with business, unions and communities, we will not let up in our fight against the acts of sabotage that are undermining our country’s development. We congratulate our law enforcement agencies and security services for their successes in dealing with these crimes.

“Their intelligence-driven operations would not be possible without the co-operation of communities, whistleblowers and industry. If we continue to work together, this is a battle that we can and will win.”

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