Artisanal gold mining in South Africa is out of control. Mistakes that got it here

Highlight should flip to systemic explanation why artisanal gold mining threatens peace and safety

Unlawful and unregulated artisanal gold mining on the Witwatersrand Basin, positioned south of South Africa’s Gauteng province, is an rising risk to neighborhood, industrial and state safety. Stories on turf wars between rival gangs, or shootouts between illegal miners and security officers are commonplace.

However latest incidents level to a spike within the scale of criminal activity, battle and criminality.

In October 2021, roughly 300 unlawful miners, referred to as “zama zamas”, attacked and shot at police and security officers when the officers tried to stop them from delivering meals parcels to underground miners. In June 2022, about 150 unlawful miners stormed gold miner Sibanye-Stillwater’s mothballed Cooke shaft near Randfontein in an try to achieve management. And since final week, South Africans have been reeling on the horrific robbery and gang rape of a movie crew at a mine dump near West Village, a multi-racial suburb of Krugersdorp on the West Rand.

West Village neighborhood members have since spoken out about being “prisoners in their own homes”. They attribute rampant crime within the space over the previous few years to the inflow of unlawful mining – a scenario that regulation enforcement officers appear unable or unwilling to regulate.

Within the wake of those incidents, the highlight should flip to the systemic causes artisanal gold mining has develop into such a risk to peace and safety. These embrace the state’s decades-long failure to nip an unregulated and unlawful artisanal gold mining trade within the bud. These incidents are additionally the results of the failure to formalise artisanal mining as a livelihood technique by means of acceptable insurance policies and legislative provisions.

Failed alternatives to formalise artisanal mining

Artisanal mining is a labour-intensive type of mining that makes use of rudimentary instruments and applied sciences. Different sub-Saharan African countries recognise artisanal mining as a proper mining class. These embrace Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Foundational insurance policies within the early years of South Africa’s democracy didn’t help artisanal mining as a everlasting livelihood technique. The 1994 Reconstruction and Development Programme merely dedicated authorities to encourage “small-scale mining”. This was on the proviso that security, labour, setting and well being situations could possibly be maintained. The 1998 Minerals Policy recognized artisanal with subsistence mining. It flagged the necessity for the state to make use of sources to “management artisanal mining as successfully as attainable.”

The 2002 Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act solely recognises large- and small-scale mining. It criminalises all mining outdoors these classes.

As well as, the 2005 Precious Metals Act empowered the South African Diamonds and Valuable Metals Regulator to manage the acquisition, smelting, refining and beneficiation of gold. This eliminated the prior involvement of the South African Police Service and has been a key enabling issue for the unregulated gold mining trade.

An unlawful artisanal gold mining trade takes root

South Africa’s Witwatersrand goldfields have produced over 30% of all the gold ever mined. However in latest a long time, large-scale gold mining has declined precipitously. Between 2012 and 2019 the industry shed 42,000 jobs.

On this context, an unlawful and unregulated gold mining trade, among the many most profitable and violent on the African continent, has taken root.

The Minerals Council of South Africa and police have recognized a five-tier hierarchy within the unlawful and unregulated gold mining trade. Unlawful miners are on the underside tier. Gangs and illegal mining bosses, licensed bulk patrons (scrap metallic sellers and pawn brokers) at nationwide or regional degree, entrance firm exporters, and worldwide middleman patrons and firms are the extra important prison actors.

The Institute of Safety Research estimates that the roughly 30,000 unlawful miners produce R14 billion (simply over US$8 million) price of gold per annum. From the state’s perspective that is “misplaced manufacturing”. The United Arab Emirates and Switzerland have been recognized as the first export locations.

Artisanal mining as a everlasting livelihood technique

Hundreds of unlawful miners pursue artisanal mining as a permanent, though precarious, livelihood strategy. Latest PhD graduate Maxwell Chuma explored this. He studied the pure, social, monetary, human and bodily capitals that body artisanal mining in South Africa. He examined the push and pull elements that drive individuals into this high-risk exercise.

The push elements embrace a lack of formal employment within the mining trade, lack of different employment alternatives and drought situations in neighbouring nations. The pull elements embrace the benefit of accessing mineralised land, social capital offered by nationwide and ethnic teams in command of unlawful mining and the comparatively steady revenue.

The dangers and illegality of the work itself, trespassing, the rampant use of mercury and the criminality of the sector make this harmful and risky work.


In 2014 the South African Human Rights Fee carried out investigative hearings into unregulated artisanal mining. The fee known as for the state to institute an acceptable coverage and regulatory framework to facilitate and handle artisanal mining as a livelihood technique.

In March 2022, Minister of Mineral Assets and Vitality Gwede Mantashe published the Artisanal and Small-scale Mining Policy. The coverage recognises the potential of artisanal mining as a livelihood technique. Nevertheless it reserves the allow system for South Africans. It duties a Nationwide Coordination and Strategic Administration Staff to “halt” unlawful mining.

The coverage has been criticised for its failure to take public feedback into consideration. It has additionally been criticised for its fantastical assumption that “platoons of unlawful miners will miraculously stop their illegal activities overnight.” Implementing the coverage may also require legislative amendments, which can take years to finalise.

Mantashe, in addition to the division, should urgently pace up makes an attempt to formalise artisanal mining as a livelihood technique. The division ought to correctly have interaction the mining trade and civil society on this course of.

On the similar time, a coordinated transnational effort to interrupt the strangle-hold of the prison syndicates should proceed.

Making use of a set of principles agreed by OECD nations on managing provide chains in battle and excessive danger areas may additionally assist handle the issue.

Lastly, the powers conferred on the valuable metals regulator must be revisited. The adjustments want to make sure that property safety checks on sellers could be carried out and patterns within the provide of gold could be decided. Unscrupulous licensed bulk patrons of illegally mined gold should even be recognized and delivered to guide.

Dr Maxwell Chuma contributed to this text and the analysis it’s based mostly on. He’s a lecturer at Learnex Company Coaching.The Conversation Tracy-Lynn Field, Professor of environmental and sustainability regulation , University of the Witwatersrand

This text is republished from The Conversation below a Inventive Commons license. Learn the original article.


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