Sibanye puts illegal mining into context

Sibanye Gold held a media briefing on 28 June 2017, where a presentation was made to contextualise illegal mining. The presentation was conducted by senior vice president of Protection Services at Sibanye, Nash Lutchman.

SibanyeThe beginning of the presentation puts illegal mining into context where Lutchman points out how illegal mining in South Africa has an “uninformed interpretation”. He also mentioned how illegal mining was misconceived as a “victimless activity” by most people. The contextualisation of illegal revealed how the activity did not only occur on abandoned mines where operations had ceased, but also occurred a lot on operating mines such as Sibanye Gold. “In some instances, the mines have closed because they are no longer commercially viable to operate any longer. Ownership then transfers to the DMR.”

Illegal mining also involves many criminal activities including trespassing, bribery, corruption, assault, murder theft of property. Lutchman pointed out that because of such crimes, the description of illegal mining as a “victimless activity”, or as “conducting mining activities without mining rights” was not justified. “That’s a very uninformed interpretation of what illegal mining is,” says Lutchman. 

Lutchman notes the various impacts illegal mining has. The most significant impact is on the economy where the mining industry suffers a loss of about R20-billion year annually. This loss includes sales, taxes and royalties. Another impact is that of the country’s socio-economic status. 

“In a country like South Africa, with high unemployment rates and poverty, the socio-economic conditions make it conducive for this thing to prosper,” Lutchman says. A factor closely linked to socio-economics is that of foreign nationals in South Africa. Lutchman explains how 90% of illegal miners arrested were foreign nationals and even hinted at the possibility of some of the illegal miners being in the country illegally, however he could not confirm this. 

Another significant impact of illegal mining is on the economy. The environment also suffers as the equipment and methods used by illegal miners damages pipelines which then leads to contamination of the environment. 

As a way of dealing with the problem of illegal miners, Sibanye has made improvements to the security systems and implemented other measures to try and ‘flush’ out illegal miners. One of the measures is food bans which prohibits employees from accessing the mine with their own food. The reason is because it was apparent that some of Sibanye’s employees were colluding with illegal miners by providing them with food and supplies underground. Another security measure is the implementation of access control systems that make it difficult for illegal miners to gain access underground. Drones are also being considered by Sibanye for surveillance purposes. Saturation controls and armed guarding are additional measures used by Sibanye to identify illegal miners underground. 

Sibanye has been successful to an extent in dealing with illegal mining. During an operation that started on 1 June 2017, 461 illegal miners were arrested and of those, nine of them were security personnel employed by Sibanye. 

During the same operation, an illegal miner was arrested in possession of amalgam balls worth an estimated R200 000, which is an estimation from Lutchman. Unfortunately, the suspect was not successfully prosecuted as the case was bungled. The criminal justice system is another factor that is not as effective in the fight against illegal mining. “Our National Prosecution Authority also lacks the particular skills to prosecute this.”

Lutchman insists that legalising illegal mining is not a viable solution due to issues of health and safety, legislation and environmental compliance, among others. Mines working with illegal miners are also unlikely, unless if this is done within a well-defined set of rules. 

“I think the final point is really important: health and safety as well as law and order cannot be casualties of such a programme,” he concludes. 


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