Specialised task force to combat illegal mining in South Africa

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The South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) are in the process of establishing a specialised unit to root out illegal mining activities in the country.

The police and the minerals department appeared before the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) for a briefing on illegal mining on Thursday. The apparent failure by authorities to clamp down on illegal miners has come under the spotlight after a film crew shooting at a mine dump close to West Village, a suburb of Krugersdorp on the West Rand, was robbed and assaulted on 29 July. Eight women in the group were gang raped.

To strengthen efforts in fighting the multibillion-rand illegal mining industry, the police and minerals department will appoint an integrated team in each province that will specialise in combating it. It will include officers from visible policing, operational response services, detectives, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks) and DMRE officials.

A feasibility study on the integrated team has been conducted and will soon be submitted to the respective departments for consideration and approval. 

“We need to trace, locate and arrest those criminals” in partnership with the security cluster of government departments, the DMRE’s deputy director general for minerals and petroleum regulation, Tseliso Maqubela, told the NCOP. 

Maqubela said intelligence gathering was an area the department had identified as needing improvement, “particularly around who trades these materials, how does it get out of the country and how is it taken to the end user.”

He named six of the country’s nine provinces as hotspots for illegal mining activities: Free State, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North West, Northern Cape and Gauteng. 

“We support the establishment of specialised units within SAPS that are going to focus on the area of illegal mining,” said Maqubela. 

Both SAPS and DMRE argued that legalising forms of artisanal and small-scale mining was not a solution to the problem.

“Legalisation of those who are engaged with illegal mining is not necessarily the solution to the problem that is there. We must decisively deal with criminality and ensure that it is dealt with,” Deputy Police Minister Cassel Mathale said.

Maqubela said allowing artisanal and small-scale mining would not “stem the tide of illegal mining”, adding: “Yes, we need a policy on artisanal and small-scale mining. That policy has now been approved and has now been made public.”

The department introduced the Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Policy in terms of the Mining Petroleum Resource Development Act on 30 March.

“But we can’t equate illegal mining to artisanal and small-scale mining. There is going to be a framework that is going to be developed when the policy has been finalised. But we don’t think that is the solution to illegal mining. Illegal mining needs prosecution.”

Maqubela called for the amendment of the act to “criminalise assistance to illegal activity, mining without the necessary permits, but also the possession of illegally mined minerals”. 

Gauteng has seen an increase of illegal gold mining activities, the police told the NCOP. There are an estimated 600 abandoned mines in the province. However, illegal mining takes place at both operational and derelict mines. 

Mathale said police had the capacity to address illegal mining but, at the same time, admitted there was a shortage of human resources. This he ascribed to the growing population in the country, compared to that of 2010. 

“I want to assure everybody that we are at work, we have the capacity to respond, and we are responding appropriately to what is currently facing our country. Yes, there are challenges in SAPS, there are shortages.”

On Wednesday, seven men were charged for the alleged rape of the eight women near West Village last month. 

Since the incident, up until 9 August, 189 arrests relating to illegal miners and immigrants had been made, police told the NCOP.

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