Corporate social responsibility monitor Benchmark Foundation has criticised the government’s approach to tackling criminality around abandoned mines and illegal mining, saying that it is missing the point.
The criticism comes after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that he has authorised the deployment of 3300 members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to conduct an intensified anti-criminality operation against illegal mining across all provinces.
David Van Wyk, Lead Researcher in Mining Safety at the Benchmark Foundation, says that the government is focusing on the wrong thing.
“We have a choice, these guys can come and hijack your car or they can go underground. The criminality is actually the abandonment of mines and so the government is missing the point here,” says Van Wyk.
Van Wyk says that the government needs to focus on converting abandoned mines to alternative economic uses and scaling down mining in areas where it is no longer viable.
“There’s many things you can do with an old mine that would actually create jobs for communities around those mines,” he says. “You can also scale down mining, because they are no longer viable for large scale industrial mines which is why you have these guys crawling underground in these abandoned mines instead of having licences and regulated operations in those mines. You don’t need to abandon a mine, you can scale it down and get smaller enterprises to actually operate those mines profitably,” he adds.
In a statement, the presidency says Ramaphosa set out the deployment including the cost of approximately R490 million to the National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Amos Masondo.
Presidential Spokesperson Vincent Magwenya says this deployment is for a specific period.
“Members of the SANDF will, in cooperation with the South African Police Service, conduct an intensified anti-criminality operation against illegal mining across all provinces, from 28 October 2023 until 28 April 2024.”
The government has said that it is committed to tackling criminality around abandoned mines and illegal mining. However, it remains to be seen whether it will change its approach in light of the criticism from experts.