Formalising small-scale mining could eradicate illegal mining: Mintek

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Formalising and legitimising artisanal small-scale mining could play a crucial role in dealing with the problem of illegal miners. This emerged at the inaugural Artisanal, Small-Scale and Emerging Miners Symposium hosted by Mintek.

Artisanal Miners are registered individuals who mine independently and are not affiliated to any mining company. The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy produced the ASM Policy in 2022, to train, empower and develop artisanal and small-scale miners.

Deputy Minister, Nobuhle Nkabane says 21 projects in the sector have been shortlisted for financial support and training, in collaboration with the Industrial Development Corporation. A move to separate illegal from formal Zama-Zamas.

Many South Africans cannot tell the difference.

The artisanal and small-scale mining sector wants to see the implementation of the 2022 gazetted Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM) Policy to help draw the line. The event, was a platform to allow artisanal miners to share their daily struggles due to the lack of operating permits and the prevalence of illegal mining activities.

Mintek is a South Africa’s national mineral research entity. The organisation brought government closer to civil society organisations and miners through its inaugural Artisanal, Small-Scale and Emerging Miners Symposium.

Mintek Group Executive: Mining, Materials And Automation Dr Jones Papo explains:

“We have been working with the small-scale miners for many years here at Mintek and those activities are mainly in communities. So we hear communities’ cries to say we want more exposure, we want training, how can we get government to enable us to be able to be mainstream players? So now there is the ASM mining policy that was signed off in 2022 and we felt it’s a good time now, policy is enabling us, we know what the cries out here are, we know the community and felt let’s come together as stakeholders in one room to have discussions. Look at what are the pain points and we invited the DMRE as our reporting department to say from your perspective tell the people as to what is it as the department that you can do.”

The symposium spoke to issues of mineral processing, training opportunities, health and safety in mining, legislation and access to funding. Government believes the ASM Policy remains a critical tool in transforming the sector and that efforts are underway to ensure its impact.

The Deputy Minister Of Mineral Resources And Energy elaborates: “We must enhance capacity building by means of efficient accounting programme, compliance with relevant legislation on governance and industrial relations, as well as a comprehensive marketing platform. Secondly, our training programme must also focus on market access by assisting them to access end-consumers through integrated sourcing, sales, distribution, and marketing services. Thirdly, we must further focus on information and knowledge sharing to enhance the quality, accessibility, and relevance of information or data to these miners.”

Many challenges

In January this year, the department published an invitation for artisanal and small-scale miners to apply for funding to assist with Financial Provision for Rehabilitation and Capital Equipment. But those in the sector say their challenges are many, and there is more work to be done.

National Association of Artisanal Miners, Zethu Hlatshwayo says small-scale mining benefits the economy.

“Artisanal mining and small-scale mining does not only benefit the man and women who is working there but the economy, the communities and the environment on its own. Because you would know and understand that some of these areas need to be rehabilitated because they are no longer safe. But there are those that are still safe so taking a step like this with the council for geoscience and Mintek means a lot to us in making sure that regulation, formalisation and legalisation of this sector is fast tracked.”

SMME Developer Merafong Municipality, Caryn Mpoelang says roadshows should be held nationally.

“There is a lot of work that the government has to do because most of the information when it comes to transformation in the mining sector especially among small scale miners, this is an area where you find there are tribal kings who’ve got mining coordinates that are not registered. This kind of information should be taken to the rural places to different municipalities. That national roadshow must be done nationally.”

ActionAid South Africa, Sifiso Dladla says formalising small scale mining will ensure taxes are being paid.

“As an artisanal miner, you are only dealing with cash, you cannot save anything because once you save that and the police come to get you then they confiscate everything. So the formalising part of it will also ensure that there are taxes that are paid by Zama Zamas who want to work in a legal manner within the confines of the law.”

The deputy minister engaged with the miners walking through the minerals stalls at the symposium, at pains to address the issue of Zama Zamas illegal mining activities which she says, continue to rob people of their livelihoods, hampering efforts towards the country’s economic recovery.

Deputy Minister Of Mineral Resources And Energy, Nkabane says small scale mining is different from illegal mining.

“Illegal mining is a criminal activity, it is not mining, it is not small scale mining, it is not artisanal mining. So there should be that clarity in our communities. Those who are doing illegal mining, there is a law enforcement agency that is dealing with them, we’ve seen a number of arrests of those who are part of the illegal mining in our country.”

Role-players say the success of the ASM policy will come through stakeholders collaborating on the training and development of the miners, empowering them to legally mine the marginal deposits that are considered less valuable by large mining companies.

Government looking to take the formalisation strategy to provinces with the aim being to have a sector that is inclusive of women, youth and persons with disabilities. Small scale and artisanal miners looking for tangible practical interventions and support that will deal with illegal mining which they say has been devastating to communities, taking away from the country’s economy.

Mintek Symposium | Regulating small-scale mining: Dr Jones Papo