Scourge of illegal mining plagues communities around Limpopo

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Despite the deaths of many illegal miners, illegal mining in Limpopo has increased over the years.

Many villages around Atok and Burgersfort have been left with huge holes and trenches caused by illegal miners, extracting chrome.  

For years, communities in the area have been plagued by illegal chrome mining. Some community members are said to be involved in this illegal activity, with others even employing foreign nationals to work for them. They say this is their only source of income.

They are calling on the government to allow them to mine or grant small-scale mining licences.

“Our government should legalise the zama-zamas. As affected communities, we’re not recognising them as zama-zamas, we’re recognising them as artisanal miners. So, we are pleading with our government to legalise the artisanal miners so that the poverty can be covered in our area,” says one miner.  

Another miner adds, “We have been doing illegal mining with our bare hands because we are unemployed. We used to sell one wheelbarrow of chrome for R100 to take care of our children. There is poverty here and we are suffering…” 

“We are not stealing from anyone, we are doing this illegal mining because we want to take care of our families because there’s huge unemployment in the country.” 

 Fatal incidents 

Some illegal miners have lost their lives after the mines caved in while they were working underground. Those involved in illegal mining say although it puts their lives in danger, they have no choice but to continue with the practice.  

One illegal miner says they retrieved the body of their fellow miner and continued mining immediately afterwards. 

“We carried him out and brought him to the road so that the policemen could get him. We called the police, and they got him and took him to the right place. The family is aware because immediately we phoned them that there’s a funeral here…their only point of entry and exit at an illegal mine imploded after heavy rains in our area. We retrieved eight bodies which were buried with mud from the heavy rains.” 


The illegal miners have left huge holes and trenches because they don’t want to incur the costs of rehabilitating the mines after extracting chrome deposits.  

Community leader in Atok, Mogale Makgolane, and resident Margaret Mothapo have indicated that most areas that have been experiencing illegal chrome mining are now uninhabitable.  

They say the miners are also mining underneath people’s houses and other infrastructure. 

Efforts to curb illegal mining  

Earlier this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that members of the South African National Defence Force would be deployed to fight illegal mining.

Deputy Police Minister Cassel Mathale says the intervention by soldiers will intensify the fight against illegal mining. 

“We have responded to illegal mining in the country. The President has further strengthened our arms by allowing the army to be in our space to further consolidate and bolster our capability in that area and we’re making very serious inroads … definitely, we’re certain that we will defeat illegality in terms of the mining space that we’ve experienced as a country. We are succeeding.” 

 Environmentalists say illegal chrome mining activities can lead to environmental degradation and that the dust from the mineral can have adverse effects on the respiratory health of the public. 

VIDEO | Illegal mining posing danger to community in Burgersfort: