South Africa’s mines and energy minister Gwede Mantashe said yesterday his government would establish a “specialised police unit” aimed at curbing illegal mining estimated to have cost the mining industry R49bn in 2019.
“It is our considered view that illegal mining is a criminal activity which must be dealt with within the prescripts of the law,” said Mantashe in a speech to Parliament today. “Hence, we have been engaging with the Ministry of Police to establish a specialised police unit to deal with this criminal activity,” he said.
The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy and the South African Police Service (SAPS) had been “working closely” to design the proposed unit. “The Ministry of Police will at an appropriate time make the necessary announcements regarding the establishment of this unit,” he said.
The unit is expected to be “multi-disciplinary” and will draw from skills in other departments, he said. “It will need to have the ability to detect, combat and investigate these crimes.”
SAPS used to have a diamonds, gold, and precious stones unit aimed specifically at tackling organised crime in the country’s minerals sector until it was closed by the former police commissioner, the late Jackie Selebi. The South African Policing Union (SAPU) called for its reinstatement last month.
Illegal mining was “an existential threat” to the mining sector, Mantashe said.
Neal Froneman, CEO of Sibanye-Stillwater said last month that the increased incidence of illegal mining in South Africa, perpetrated by people referred to locally as ‘Zama-zamas, required the support of the country’s military.
He added that intervention was required at a high level owing to the sophisticated nature of illegal mining activities.
“We have requested special assistance from the police. It won’t be solved by dealing with the obvious issue of illegal miners; we have to address the syndicates and deal with this internationally and stop focusing on individuals that are abused at the lower end of illegal mining,” said Froneman.
In 2020, the Minerals Council South Africa estimated that seven tons of gold – from total national production of about 135 tons – is lost each year to illegal mining, which is driven by the joblessness and economic hardship that prevail across the country.