Deep Insights #44 Illegal mining: Dealing with the scourge that is crippling our country

Episode 44 August 24, 2022 00:29:03
Deep Insights #44 Illegal mining: Dealing with the scourge that is crippling our country
Deep Insights with Mining Review Africa
Deep Insights #44 Illegal mining: Dealing with the scourge that is crippling our country

Aug 24 2022 | 00:29:03


Show Notes

Illegal mining in South Africa is on the rise, has become increasingly violent, and has a devastating effect on our citizens and our country. Can we stem the tide of this well-organised criminal activity?


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Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00:00 So it is certainly under rise the way we see it, it's becoming more, increasingly more violent and it is becoming increasingly open Speaker 1 00:00:09 The brutal rape of eight women near a mind dumping Krugers for has brought to the, for the serious threat that illegal mining poses for the country. Now, with communities up in arms, police have promised to crack down on ZMA Zama. Is this enough? And will it curb illegal mining? Hi, I am Roal GTA and welcome to deep insights brought to you by mining review Africa. In this episode, senior editor J chats to Tablo Shani, senior executive of public affairs and transformation at minerals council, South Africa about why illegal mining is not only detrimental to communities, but also to the economy at large, but this criminal activity on the rise. Is there a solution in sight? Let's join the conversation. Speaker 2 00:01:04 Tablo, thank you for joining us today on deep insights. Now, I guess it is sad indeed, that it has taken the rape of eight women to highlight the seriousness of illegal mining in your view. Just how big is the problem. Speaker 0 00:01:23 Yeah, I, I agree. Um, we are, uh, you know, really appalled, um, by the rape of the eight women and, um, you know, it's, it's, it was very tragic. It's a horrible incident, but it has certainly highlighted, um, you know, how broken our society is and some of the challenges that we face, um, certainly relating to, uh, you know, illicit mining. Now, the, the mining sector in South Africa, as you know, is a critical component of south Africa's economy. I mean that we call it the flywheel of the economy, and yet it is played by, um, criminal syndicates, um, that comprise extortion mafia, uh, copper theft mafia. And those are, that are involved in the mining of, you know, illegal, uh, mining of products from operating minds at times, and also from these, um, derelict and list minds. And also from, um, old mind dumps. In fact, you even see it on, um, Virgin deposits, uh, and, and it's happening quite a large scale on Virgin Virgin deposits in South Africa. So it is really quite extensive Speaker 2 00:02:41 Now to, to be this, this is, this is not a new problem in the country. In fact, you know, there's been reports of warnings of, uh, you know, to, to curb the spread of illegal mining, but is it on the rise at the moment? Speaker 0 00:02:56 You're right. That it's not a new issue. It's not a new topic clearly. Uh, mining has taken place, you know, in South Africa on the continent for, for centuries, right. And, um, yes, we've seen a lot of, um, artisanal mining since, you know, time and Memorial, so to speak and, and you know, of late, you've had the more industrialized type of mining, but illegal mining. I mean, you know, unlawful mining has certainly also been there for some time, but it is on the increase in the south African context. And, uh, we are noticing it, uh, primarily as I said, a lot more extensive on these earns and derelict minds, but we are seeing a lot more of it on these, um, you know, Virgin deposits and, um, where South Africa is slightly different to other con you know, other countries on the continent is that you're seeing it at a call it large scale or industrial scale, um, illegal mining where the, the minus are, have, you know, pined to 20, uh, you know, heavy earth moving equipment at their disposal. Speaker 0 00:04:12 Um, and they're doing so illegally out there in the open, the other component, um, that is also hitting South Africa hard in where South Africa is maybe be slightly different to other parts of the, the continent of the world is that the, you know, illegal mining, the south African contest is very violent. And, um, we have, uh, there's Amazon the ground as we call them the illegal miners, but they are part of these, uh, gangs, uh, and syndicates that have access to, um, cable equipment. They, they help them with their supplies, but also to, um, automatic, uh, machine guns, uh, firearms weapons, and, you know, they utilize them, uh, quite effectively, uh, to fend off, you know, other, you know, other gangs from their particular properties. They also utilize them, um, to fend off the police, um, or those that are trying to apprehend them, you know, from committing these illegal acts. So it is certainly under rise the way we see it, it's becoming more, increasingly more violent, and it is becoming increasingly open, especially the industrial scale, illegal mining Speaker 2 00:05:33 Now to Beto you, you mentioned, you know, uh, that syndicates are involved so clearly Amazon not working on their own. So can you give us an overview of how this all works? Because I mean, you mentioned getting equipment access to, to, to weapons, um, but how do they manage to traffic, these illegal minerals as well? Speaker 0 00:05:55 So I wanna draw the distinction, uh, within the illegal mining context to, um, small scale artisanal mining. Yeah. So you do get those people trying to E out an existence, um, from the underground or open workings, mostly open workings, actually artisanal, uh, because the underground tends to be a lot more, uh, syndicate related. So those on the open, um, workings, um, that given the opportunity might even legalize the operations of the activities. Okay. So they are nonviolent. And, uh, these are members of the community really trying to econ existent. I distinguish that from what we have privilege in south African context with theses, where the Zaas are one layer of the criminal scheme, they are actually the bottom layer of it, you know, so they are the, um, underground workers, primarily, um, um, immigrants, um, from places like, you know, maybe Lato a lot of them are to nationals. Speaker 0 00:07:05 Cause a lot of them have worked in the minds and underground and actually understand south Africa's underground mind network, very well. They have this mining experience and they know how to, to do, to, to, to mine and use chemicals, you know, to refine the product. So that's the one layer. And then you have above that, the, the gangs that actually support them, or even in instances, the illegal mine bosses that support them, they get them the equipment, they get them, the guns, um, they protect them. They're the ones that are involved in, you know, bringing that, you know, or, you know, artillery or fire power, you know, to fend off, uh, um, you know, attacks by, by police, by rival gangs. They're the ones that help them with, you know, setting up booby traps, uh, for, for anybody that wants to come in there, workings and even on active minds for operational wines, so that you've got that layer. Speaker 0 00:08:06 And then above that you have the, they on sell the product to local syndicates that have, um, legitimate licenses at times for the product that they deal with now. So these three layers that are explained are all, usually in the south African context, they are local. So, so now this product goes to these local syndicates that now deal with the, you know, precious commodities or commodities that have been Muslim, illegal minds. And then they give those to the exporters. Um, the exporters are either local or international or clearly getting the goods overseas then to the international, um, buyers and distributors that are, are clearly also overseas. So it's a multilayer organization, you know, the higher here you go up the organization, the more organized it is. And, and, and that's essentially how some of these criminal syndicates, um, operate. Speaker 2 00:09:11 That's really interesting indeed. Now I, I wanna go back to the incidents in Kruger DOP, um, and following that, uh, you know, police minister be failure has a promise to be tough on Zs, even alluding to the shoot to kill, uh, strategy that he's mentioned before. Um, is that the right way to, to, to address this problem? Speaker 0 00:09:38 Look, I'm not familiar with the, uh, shoe to kill, um, strategy. Um, but, but certainly, uh, focusing on dealing with illicit mining is the right way to go. Um, they do have to CLA down, they do have to make the arrests, but more importantly, we've gotta follow through with the prosecutions. Now we have been saying for some time now that, um, you know, we need a specialist unit within the police that focuses on, um, illegal, um, mining and some of the illegal activity that, um, that impacts on, on, on the mining sector, uh, because it it's one thing to have the police, uh, as you know, the, the first responders on a site. Um, but they are outnumbered. They are outgunned. And, and at times, you know, outputted, what I mean by that is that the, the Zas, um, are they in large numbers? They, they are carrying, um, automatic rifle and they have the support of at times, um, people with military training, for instance, even the LASU government has admitted that some of their defense, former defense force members are involved in illegal mining in South Africa. Speaker 0 00:11:01 So, you know, if the police pitch up their onsite with one or two bands, they cannot deal with a gang of heavy armed, um, people with military training. They, they just are totally out outgunned and, and also they don't, they tend not to go underground. Firstly, they don't have the equipment to be able to go safely underground and, or even the knowhow to go safely underground. So they it's, it's very difficult for them to be very effective there. Yes. Higher up with the, um, if you get as that that'd hierarchy that we spoke of in terms of the criminal syndicates, you have the, the, the Hawks, uh, operating there. Um, I mean the Hawks, as you know, are the directorate for, of, um, priority crimes and investigations. So, so they deal with higher up in the syndicates, but you do need, um, a special task force that understands how these syndicates works. Speaker 0 00:12:03 They are equipped to be able to deal with these syndicates. They, they are trained to be able to recognize minerals, um, you know, to know the difference between, you know, Chrome and just rocks, uh, while it is being, um, transported. Um, but that also then needs to be supported with appropriate legislation, um, that criminalizes, uh, and punishes certain, you know, illegal mining, uh, related crimes and the position of certain, you know, um, uh, illegal material. So you do need a bit of support. So you need that specialist, um, task force that develop the knowledge and the knowhow, the training, and you need that, um, the legislative environment to actually support them. So it is actually, uh, quite an involved, um, process that actually needs to be implemented. And, and then secondly, you know, the, the, they, they need to be able to develop and gather intelligence on, on what's happening. Speaker 0 00:13:07 A lot of the police might not even know the ring leaders of these various, um, gangs that are there. So again, it, it, it takes time of people being on a particular case that gets to, you know, when they get to understand who are the ring leaders, how do they operate? And, and when they go into communities, uh, where these guys operate, um, and, and yes, at times, you know, we say the communities have a love, hate relationship with, um, LIS they draw livelihood, um, from their activities, but they also, you know, and, and impede the, the police from AC actively carrying out their duties, but they also adversely impacted, um, by this, uh, illegal mining activity in many, many respects, you know, the environment, their water, there's a lot of, uh, drug use prostitution, uh, general corruption, there's extortion, human trafficking. Um, and, and, and, you know, I haven't even spoken about the impact that, that, that illegal mining has on operating minds in terms of undermining, you know, infrastructure underground, uh, extortion threats on security and other mine personnel to, to help the illegal miners to go underground. Um, they also Zaas, um, start fires, uh, underground. They make the workplace unsafe to work and, and, and, and, and a lot of the mind risk services, a lot of their time is spent now on extracting the bodies of Zama. So it, it, it, it really involves quite a concerted, uh, thought through effort, uh, um, not just a shoot to kill. Uh, but I mean, I don't think that the minister police were saying, well, that's the only thing that they're gonna be doing. I just, this just gives you an idea. Speaker 2 00:15:07 Yeah. I just wanna, I just wanna touch on the communities though. Uh Tobelo and, um, you mentioned the sort of love, hate relationship with the Zaas, but there were a number of violent protests following, um, the incident at Kruger DOP. Um, is this a, a sense that the communities actually don't have much faith in the police and leading on from that? Should there be maybe a military intervention? Speaker 0 00:15:40 You know, it's, it's difficult to speak about a particular community, um, with any authority in particular like the one there near the, uh, dumps there in Kruger store, but, you know, generally speaking, as I said, you know, there is this, um, odd relationship in that, um, some of the community members do actually draw livelihood from some of the illegal mining activities. And, and, and I mean, we have AC cases where in some instances they really, really actively, uh, impede the police from being able to attach equipment belonging to the illegal minors, um, giving intelligence and, and accessing the neighborhoods. So we've definitely seen those elements and it, and it actually happens quite, quite, quite, quite often, which you can understand that in some instances, these, um, ZMA present such a hazard, uh, to the lives of communities. I mean, in the instance where you have eight women being raped, um, there, you can clearly see there that these particular, the Zama ZMA is in this area is well particularly, uh, a hazard to this community. Speaker 0 00:16:56 Now we've only got what we are hearing is probably the tip of the iceberg. I did mention the, the other impacts that they have in these communities, um, relating to drug use and prostitution, um, you know, they, they, they are often armed, uh, yeah, they, they're the ones that frequent the sus. And, uh, so they do corrupt the, the locals, um, impact their culture. They, um, you know, there's, they, they bring in, you know, the human trafficking element and that the people, including young kids important to the minds, there, there's a lot of extortion that happens, you know, they do threaten, um, people to do X, Y, and Z, uh, or else. And, and, and as I said, you know, with also with the environmental pollution, they, you know, for instance, on the mine, on the gold mining side, they use mercury to, to, to extract the gold. Speaker 0 00:17:54 Now there's poisons the water suppliers. So, so there's a lot of harm that the legal mining does to any particular community, which, which is really enough to get communities up in arms. So if they feel that they're not getting, um, the requisite assistance from the police, which is clearly the case in, in this particular instance, um, the, the communities members have been saying that, gee, they have been dealing with these challenges for some time, the police are not acting, they will, um, then resort to vigilantism. Clearly we do not condone it. Um, we would rather, um, have the situation where the police, uh, you know, capacitate themselves and actually take action in those communities. Cause that's the right way to do it. The vigilantism is not really going to deal with the, with the, with the issue, but, but, but yes, I mean, to the extent that the community stops cooperating, stops harboring, um, illegal immigrants and, and takes a stand in that regard. Uh, but I mean, clearly a non-violence stand, um, that could probably work in me favor. Speaker 2 00:19:01 Absolutely. That's a very interesting point you make there. Well, I wanna look at things on a larger scale and, you know, the south African economy, um, and how, how much do you have an idea of how much money we are losing because of illegal money mining Speaker 0 00:19:18 It's it's it really, really is difficult to say, because I mean, remember this activity is kine, it's illegal. Uh, it takes place underground behind closed doors. So it's very difficult to, to put a figure to it, but as you can imagine, it runs into billions. Um, it runs into billions. And so we, as a south African society is losing out an immense amount of money, loss of revenue taxes, royalties to the Fiscus, you know, these, these are all, you know, things that should be going to making our lives better. And, and that is why we, as a, as a, as a <inaudible> council are absolutely pushing for one, the legalization of those that want to, uh, do legal mining because they must do so responsibly with D regard to environmental laws, employee people pay their taxes. But the, um, the, the majority of the legal mining that takes place of is a criminal activity and must be dealt with, uh, firmly as a criminal activity Speaker 2 00:20:33 Of wanna ask you with regards to mining companies, is there somewhat a partial responsibility on their side to ensure that illegal mining doesn't continue, particularly when it comes to, uh, old mind, old mind sites, uh, ensuring that minds are shut down, uh, correctly. Speaker 0 00:20:58 So let's talk about the responsibility of the operating minds. Yeah. Um, but the, we have to contextualize it with the, um, what we have in the south African context. I mean, these ownerless and derelict minds, the, uh, something like 6,000, 100 of them now, some of these minds date back to hundred years plus ago. So I, you can imagine, uh, you know, back then there were no environmental provisions in in fact, you know, the, the really more stringent environmental and rehabilitation provisions came in with the N P R D a, the monos of petroleum development resources act. Um, and, and it's only then that the, the minds had these quite stringent obligations relating to, uh, concurrent rehabilitation and putting money aside for closure. But prior to then, you know, what, what the mining companies just did was essentially just put a fence around, and this wasn't just the south African practices was an international practice. Speaker 0 00:22:06 They just fenced it off. And that was it. So now the DM R E has the budget and is now the one that is responsible for, um, rehabilitating closing off these ownerless and derelict minds, but clearly they're not doing so fast enough. I mean, you need to have a look at that order to general report, um, in this regard. So it's the DM R E's respons to deal with these ownerless and derelict minds, but clearly current mining operations have the responsibility to, as they mine do concurrent rehabilitation and make provision for closure. Um, I I'm, if I'm not mistaken, there's some 6.6 billion odd ran that is certain in funds for closure of these, some of these operating minds. So that, that is certainly what they have to do, but, but also, you know, they need to go beyond that or what we say with minds nowadays. Speaker 0 00:23:05 And, and this is really the current thinking relating to mind closure is that you've gotta start the mind, but with the closure in mind. So, as you are starting to mind, as the mind is actually profitable, you've gotta be looking at making provision for closure. So within where the area that you mind look at creating alternative, uh, economy, businesses, supporting alternative economies and businesses that are not dependent on mining, it's not that easy to do, but, you know, mines usually last for some, some decades and, you know, decades plus, so with the requisite planning and, and, and putting in the measures, you can actually, uh, put in place, uh, measures to ensure that, you know, post mining, you at least leave behind a, a sustainable, um, settlement or town that doesn't rely fully on mining. Speaker 2 00:24:05 I know that the minerals council has been very vocal when it comes to the issue of illegal mining. What are some of the initiatives that your organization is taking to, to, to help solve this problem? Speaker 0 00:24:21 As you know, I mean, we we've been, um, lobbying for a specialized police force to look at, um, the criminal activities that take place in mining. And, you know, so, I mean, I think already since 2018, we've been, um, asking, uh, for that, but for even longer though, we, we have been cooperating with not only local, but also national police, um, with combating, you know, illegal, illegal mining. Now, if you look at what our members are doing, the kind of those that are on the operational minds, they work quite a lot, not only in terms of just protecting assets, but also working quite a lot with the police to ensure that their minds are not infiltrated by illegal minus. And, and, and I'm sure, you know, that one of the biggest challenges that we have in south African context, I mean, you can travel underground, uh, from Randberg to Joberg city center. Speaker 0 00:25:21 Yeah. You know, that's how interconnected these minds are underground. So it is really amazed of tunnels there. So your, your current minds, I mean, I know that they've, they're spending an extra 25 billion odd grand just on security measures, uh, to deal with things like illicit mining. So they have to be very active in that regard. And also, uh, they are very open to, and do collaborate with the, the various, um, disciplines within the police to deal with minor. I mean, we, we support them with, um, facilit facilities. We, you know, with joint operational centers, uh, with equipment at times with, uh, knowhow on mining and, and are always very willing to, to, uh, provide information also about what is happening. I mean, we need to get better at that ourselves in providing the police with a lot more useful information of what is happening, um, where there are instances of illegal mining, but as you can imagine, the, the, the mining companies themselves are very active. Speaker 0 00:26:32 I mean, to give you an example, uh, I think in the last, um, seven or so years, Nia Stillwater has ejected, um, over 7,000 illegal migrants from their minds. So, you know, the Mon council is very active with the, with the police, um, on the, essentially on the lobbying perspective and getting the minds to collaborate with the police, um, trying to get them to spearhead, um, certain initiatives. But, you know, one of the things we, we, we cannot, um, disclose is really the details of what we are doing with the police, because yeah, as the, you know, these things do take time to take, to bear fruit, but, uh, yeah, it's not the kind of things that you can actually talk about, uh, at this stage. Yeah, Speaker 2 00:27:16 Yeah, absolutely. One final question, uh, to Belo it, this doesn't look like a problem that is gonna go away anytime soon. So my question is one, can there be an into, to illegal mining in South Africa? And in your view, what will it take to actually bring these criminals to book? Because essentially that's what they are. They are criminals. Speaker 0 00:27:42 I don't, um, I don't think you'll have an end to illegal mining, um, that will always be prevalent. But what we really have to do is stop the rise of illegal mining. It is really a booming activity. So we have to take action to suppress its rise and also hopefully diminish it within the country, uh, bring it under control. So to speak, especially this industrial scale, illegal mining, or this violent, uh, uh, the violent component of illegal mining. And it's, you know, these specialized policing units are part of the solution to, to doing that. That's what we've gotta be doing. Speaker 2 00:28:25 Okay. Tabla Chiana senior executive of public affairs and transformation at Monroes council, South Africa. Thank you very much for joining us on deep insights today. Speaker 0 00:28:38 Thank you. Speaker 2 00:28:39 Thank you. Speaker 1 00:28:40 Thank you for listening. Please remember to subscribe to our podcast channel for more deep insights and for the latest mining news features and analysis log onto mining until next time, goodbye and stay safe.

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