Government has no plan to manage collapsing mining towns or the communities suffering because of the failures to hold mining houses to account.

This was the opinion of chief researcher at the Benchmark Foundation David van Wyk, after National Executive Committee (NEC) member of the African National Congress (ANC), Nomvula Mokonyane called on all South Africans to support Expropriation Without Compensation (EWC), in response to the gruesome rape of eight women by illegal miners in Krugersdorp.

Communities taking matters into their own hands

The last few days saw residents in different parts of Mogale City, including Krugersdorp taking matters into their own hands, looking for illegal miners, in the aftermath of the rape incident.

Mohlakeng residents destroyed and burnt shacks searching for Zama zamas
A Mohlakeng community member holds a machete and a hammer as residents run away from a fire that is burning belongings of suspected illegal miners at a Mohlakeng hostel, near Randfontein, on 8 August 2022. Photo: PHILL MAGAKOE / AFP

A number of arrests have since been made and it remains to be seen if the arrested suspects are indeed the real culprits behind the horrible crime which took place near Krugersdorp.

Joining a protest outside the court where some of the suspects appeared last week, Mokonyane said those who have exploited mineral resources have left the mines unattended, leaving behind a haven for criminality, but seemingly failed to take into account the governing party’s own inability to enforce legislation meant to ensure companies rehabilitate mines once the close shop.

“We believe this gives an opportunity for all of us to support and call for the Expropriation Without Compensation (EWC) for the good of the public. Secondly, we also believe that border management is quite important so that we deal with illegal movement of people.

“These are people who were brought in by the private sector to come and work here, and once the mines get closed, they don’t take them back to the countries or provinces that they received them from, and once the mine is closed or a shaft is closed, they end up doing all these things,” she said.

Mokonyane further said those mine owners who have deserted their properties, also need to be taken to task by way of expropriating their land for the good of the public.

Politicians using events to rally factional support

Meanwhile a political analyst, Dr. Ntsikelelo Breakfast believes that the unfolding drama is being used to rally support for the upcoming national elective conference of the ANC in December, cannot be ruled out.

“We are witnessing a rather complex phenomenon, which appears to be a campaign for the ANC’s top 6 leadership.

“I also believe that the minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe could have gone to speak with the community members,” he said.

Breakfast added that Mokonyane’s remarks indicates that she is still a proponent of the ANC’s Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction.

However, through her outrage against the companies which supposedly failed to ensure the mines are rehabilitated, and pushing of the expropriation agenda, she also inadvertently threw the governing party as a whole under the bus by highlighting their inability to enforce the law as far as mining companies and their responsibilities to surrounding communities are concerned.

Performance on audit report of derelict mines

In 2002 the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act repealed the 1991 Minerals Act and the strengthened the definition of a holder and the rehabilitation requirement by compelling the holder to fully rehabilitate mines before the department issues a closure certificate.

The Act also mandates the department to manage mines that were abandoned prior to 2002, considered derelict and ownerless, and that management includes rehabilitation.

The first audit of abandoned mines was based on the 2002 Act.

The Audit in question highlighted the negative effect on the environment and health and safety mines have in communities.

The follow up audit was completed during 2021 and it was meant to evaluate progress made by the department since 2009.

Government’s failures laid bare

According to the first audit from the office of the Auditor General (AG), some progress has been made but there are still many critical areas that affect economical, efficient, and effective rehabilitation.

In the 2009 audit of derelict mines, the AG found that there were no measures in place to ensure effective rehabilitation.

A follow-up audit found that over the past 12 years (period ending March 31 2010 to March 31 2021), the rehabilitation of the mines has only increased from 1,67 mines to 2,25 mines in 2021, showing the department of mineral resources’ failure in holding mining houses to account.

They cite that “pollution, toxic gases, infertile soil and severely degraded water resources that are often devoid to life, have had a negative impact on the health and safety of residents”.

Due to the fact that mines in South Africa are not geographically isolated, but located quite close to communities and natural habitats, the risk of exposure to toxic contaminants through the air that surrounding residents breathe, food they eat, as well as water they drink is quite high.

Here the department of health came under the spotlight, as it was found that they failed to keep records of “health-related statistics on the impact of unrehabilitated D&O mines on the health of affected communities.”

The audit identified four “key contributors” to the failure of government to ensure that progress in mine rehabilitation doesn’t take place.

These failures are listed as:

Leadership and oversight:

  • It was found that despite the requirement that the department review and update its
    implementation plan for rehabilitation programmes every five years, this was not done.
    “Its implementation plan was also not costed or approved, and did not include all the key components (deliverables) of the approved national strategy” as reported in the audit findings and recommendations of the AG’s report.
  • The enabling national mine closure strategy (NMCS), which would allow for alternative uses of land, beside rehabilitation only, as only gazetted for public comment on 21 May 2021, more than 11 years after the national strategy set this specific objective. This meant the policy which would finalise different end-land use could never be finalised.
  • Changes in the way the department reported on the rehabilitation of asbestos mines and holings, the slow progress could not be measured, while the merger of the Departments of energy and Mineral Resources in 2019 meant the department did not include plans for mine rehabilitation were not included in its annual performance plans for 2020 to 2025.
  • Despite the former director-general establishing the rehabilitation oversight committee (ROC) in December 2009, the committee’s terms of reference were never approved. The ROC also failed to meet regularly, execute their functions, or assess the success of implementation.
  • The department failed to establish who exactly was liable for the 2 238 derelict mines identified as
  • possibly having mineral rights which fall within the boundaries of licensed mining areas or private
  • property ownership.

Funding:

  • National Treasury’s annual funding allocation was insufficient to ensure that all 6 100 derelict and ownerless mines will be rehabilitated by the envisioned cut-ff date of 2038 and that. The goal was to see all 261 asbestos mines rehabilitated by 2033, with allocated funding prioritised to for this, which meant the remaining 2 322 fell through the cracks in terms of available funding.

Contract management and operations

  • The department failed to develop and implement processes and procedures to direct the rehabilitation programme, leading to shortcomings in project planning, recording of additional mine sites, and the implementation and monitoring of remedial action.
  • Contracts with implementing agents of rehabilitation programmes also didn’t contain enough detail to ensure accountability, meaning no corrective action could be taken when they failed to execute.
  • Government only implemented a much-needed stakeholder engagement framework with affected communities in 21 June 2019, in response to enduring community unrest. Due to this non-implementation, and the lack of solutions for unsuccessful community engagement, some asbestos rehabilitation programmes were put on hold for extended periods.
  • All of the above led to an inability to prioritise and schedule rehabilitation projects. The department also failed to properly monitor closed and rehabilitated mines, meaning when illegal miners reopened these locations, they were unable to detect it and swiftly respond to them.

Intergovernmental coordination

  • The directors-general of the departments of Mineral Resources, Water and Sanitation, and Forestry,
    Fisheries and the Environment failed to approve the terms of reference for the government task team on mine closure and water management (GTT), without which communication between the various departments on rehabilitation programmes was lacking.

No plans, just ’emotions’ and ‘opportunism’

Reacting to Mokonyane’s remarks, van Wyk said instead of focusing on how to improve matters, the ANC-led government has always been ignorant when it comes to illegal mining.

He described Mokonyane’s call for expropriation without compensation as ‘opportunistic’.

“The ANC Government has been failing to apply the law and are just responding with emotions with no plans to really deal with the matter.”

He also believes that Mineral Resources minister Gwede Mantashe’s department has dropped the ball, as they should be inspecting abandoned mines all the time, in order to make sure they are properly maintained and rehabilitated, yet that is not happening.

Mines pose a danger to surrounding communities in more ways than one, and zama zamas shouldn’t be nearby residents’ only concerns.

Van Wyk said some of the mines are already filling up with water, posing a safety and health risk to illegal miners and citizens alike.

“Some of these mines have five levels and you can’t go below that as a result of the water.

“It is particularly areas in the south and south-western parts of Gauteng which are of concern, and government has been made aware of this but have always made promises that they will deal with the matter, yet nothing has been forthcoming. We have leaders who want to drive fancy cars but don’t want to take responsibility.”

Mines could benefit SA and zama zamas, if managed right

Van Wyk said if managed correctly, some of these mines could have been used to the advantage of all involved.

“For instance, the substations at some of the mines can be used to add generation capacity to the country’s already strained grid, but nothing is happening because our government has been ignorant,” he said.

According to van Wyk, there are currently approximately 34 000 illegal miners with around 250 000 people (families) depending on them to put food on the table.

He said these illegal miners would also most likely prefer to be regulated, rather than operate on the periphery of society.

He proposed that this should start with an audit of the small-scale mines in the country.

“They need to create conditions within which small-scale mining can operate legally and they also need to organise people into co-operatives.”

This would most likely resemble what the department has done previously in the Northern Cape, where licenses were given to a number of illegal miners in Kimberly, to mine for diamonds in partnership with a local mining company.

This would not only formalise the industry, but also chop the heads off syndicates who profit off illegal miners by paying them a pittance of the true value of the products they dig up.

“If they refuse what the syndicates are offering them, they end up getting killed and even some police officers are part of the syndicate, because they are also taking bribes from the syndicates.

“Regulating these illegal miners would mean removing those syndicates, make their (illegal miners) operations safer and more environmentally friendly… You could even issue them with ID cards.”

By editor