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The Council for Geoscience (CGS) will close 45 open mine shafts in the 2014/15 financial year to prevent illegal mining and to protect communities who live near the derelict and ownerless mines in Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga, according to reports.

“In Gauteng, we are prioritising areas with shafts in the informal settlements because they pose an immediate danger,” Water and Environmental Manager at the CGS Mosidi Makgae said.

Makgae was speaking during a CGS presentation to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources in Pretoria on Thursday.

Negative impact on economy

A presentation by the Department of Mineral Resources revealed that illegal mining had a negative impact on the country’s economy and resulted in a significant loss of revenue for the state and mines.

“According to a 2007 study, it was found that close to 10%, R5.6 billion, of gold production was stolen and smuggled out of the country annually,” according to a report presented by chief inspector from the Department of Mineral Resources, David Msiza.

A recent Wall Street Journal carried a front-page story about South Africa leading the world in illegal gold digging.

“After years of watching its dominance over the gold industry shrink dramatically, SA has emerged as the world capital of illegal gold digging,” read the WSJ report titled ‘Dangerous Economy Thrives in SA’s Abandoned Gold Mines’.

Mine closures

Once the world’s biggest gold producer, SA accounted for 80% of the global supplies as recently as 1970. Today, that figure is less than 1%, in large part because China and other countries have sharply picked up their own production, forcing mine closures here that created an opening for freelancers, reports Anthony Turton, a South African mining consultant.

Today, some 4 400 abandoned mines dot the countryside, almost four times the number in operation, according to CGS.

Makgae said the council had appointed engineering service providers, who would supply innovative designs to try to beat illegal miners at their own game.

“To this date, we have managed to close about 146 sites and out of the 146 sites, 11 of those have been reopened by illegal miners,” she said.

Risky job

Makgae said field workers, who were tasked with closing the shafts, had a risky job because they had physical encounters with the illegal miners.

“When we appoint contractors to close the shafts, it’s a fight between the contractors and the illegal miners because they are saying ‘this is our bread and butter and you taking that away from us’,” she said.

Msiza said illegal mining was carried out by national and international organized crime syndicates targeting the mining sector.

He said the syndicates were highly organised, dangerous, well financed and complex. Illegal mining was fuelled by mine closures, liquidations and self-enrichment.

Series of interventions

The Department of Mineral Resources established the Gauteng Stakeholder Forum, which has implemented a number of interventions to prevent illegal mining, such as strengthening access control and security measures at mines.

Other measures that have been put in place were the rehabilitation of derelict and ownerless mines.

Msiza said open holes, shafts and openings were continuously identified and sealed by the Department of Mineral Resources, CGS and mining companies.

Achievements of department

Even though the department had challenges when dealing with illegal mining, it had made some achievements. The department had sealed 126 open shafts and holes in Gauteng.

“In March, a mine manager was arrested after he was found to be in possession of 1.3kg of gold believed to have been 80 percent pure and worth R500 000.

“In June, 20 Sibanye Gold employees were arrested at Driefontein Gold Plant for alleged multi-billion gold theft. It is believed that the employees are part of a syndicate,” he said.

Sources: SAnew.gov, Business Day Live, Wall Street Journal

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