The solution should be immediate or the Zamazamas will take our lives

By Tshepo Rakumakoe

Sanibonani nonke Ngiyathemba nimnandi as I am mentioning this name of Zama Zamas. It has been over a decade that the illegal miners have been stealing what can be said that belongs to the South African government and its people. Companies left a lot of mines due to different reasons.

South Africa has been a continual large-scale mining mine for almost a century. Our economy is based on a robust and well-developed mining sector. Mining, unlike other perishable items, provided a consistent source of income for the government regardless of environmental swings. However, the social reconfigurations that damaged and transformed the country forever came at a cost. Along with significant social collapse and social issues, I have realized that the mining business has produced multi-billionaires and created jobs for millions. This even resulted in displaced families and a shattered social fabric as a result of the demand for mining employment. Though the issue was strong, young men were obliged to leave their families and homelands to seek chances in the mines, putting their health and lives at risk due to hazardous working conditions.

It has also come to my attention that much has improved over the years as a result of tight regulations and laws requiring the protection of miners’ lives and health. Mining is still a profitable business in South Africa since the country is rich in minerals. However, due to strong regulatory rules and significant barriers to entry, such as the lengthy and costly process of acquiring a prospecting license which is mainly provided by the Mineral Council of South Africa and then this saw a massive increase in illegal mining. However, I still think we still need to respect the laws of any country no matter what we believe in.

Illegal mining is risky and expensive, not just for the miners who go underground unprotected, but also for the environment and the economy. The recent deaths of 16 people in the Boksburg gas leak disaster have once again brought to light the risks involved with illicit mining in the country, emphasizing the urgent need for effective solutions as the practice continues to thrive despite government efforts to put an end to it.

Illegal mining has far-reaching consequences that could have a negative impact on the country’s economy, investment possibilities, and social security. From the data that I came across conducted by the Transnational Alliance to Combat Illicit Trade, South Africa has between 8 000 and 30 000 illegal miners. The illicit miners, known locally as zama-zamas, are frequently young men who have fled from nearby countries in search of quick gains from mining decommissioned mines.

However, the reality of illicit mining is that it is frequently dangerous and deadly to both the miners and the community in which they operate. Some of the hazards of illegal mining include environmental repercussions such as sinkhole formation, poisoning of soil and groundwater, chemical leakages, and others that may impede the productivity and health of the local community. The question is “Do these illegal miners care though?”

I am raising this question because there have been videos recently on both social media platforms where these criminals do show that they are not even afraid of the South African Police Service members at all. It is indeed saddening to find out that the police within your country are not being respected at all. This leads to my other question.

Unfortunately, the vestiges of how the mining business was founded (exploitation and manipulation to attract the workforce) continue to fuel the appeal of illegal mining. Although there are significant variations, some of these young men are willing to risk their lives in the prospect of a better life because of poverty, unemployment, inequality, and pessimism. Illegal mining has been utilized as a means to escape poverty, restore hope, and advance in a culture with little chance. However, the cost of illegal mining to the country’s economy is substantial, affecting financial resources and impeding overall development.

Through my research, I realized that Illegal mining is projected to cost the government R7 billion per year. This includes lost revenue from taxes and royalties, as well as environmental and infrastructure critical services and infrastructure. This includes cash lost from taxes and royalties, as well as environmental and infrastructure damage. This loss of money exacerbates poverty and inequality within affected communities by reducing the government’s ability to invest in critical services and infrastructure. This really pained me to that level of asking myself what is wrong with these people.

I know with what I have in mind most people will think that I am not being considerate when I say we should not be using poverty as a scapegoat as it has been overused. From what I have gathered it is that most of them are said to be non-South Africans. Setswana se re “Moeng o dinaka di maripa” This simply means that as a guest you need to know your place and try not to be all over your host’s place without permission. This is something these non-South Africans are not doing that shows that they are abusing the country’s hospitality. What can be done to sort out this illicit phenomenon happening at our shores?

The worst part is that illegal mining is a complex issue that is mostly driven by the country’s general attitude of lawlessness. It is a practice that is allegedly maintained by unscrupulous state officials and mining officers who are bribed to reopen disused mines. Naturally, the government and mining industry are expected to take action to address this issue. As a result, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) has taken a three-pronged approach to combating unlawful mining. Exactly when one mentions that officials get included, then this can be a bit tricky.

I am saying this will be difficult due to the fact that we have to start by authorizing mining licenses, such that we may promote legitimate mining practices. Secondly, derelict mines must be rehabilitated, and mine entrances and shafts must be sealed to prevent unauthorized entry. Finally, the DMRE should collaborate closely with law enforcement agencies to eliminate the incentives for people to engage in unlawful mining.

Possibly if the government can try to open these mines that were once closed by the mining companies. The reason is due to the fact I do think they can help in the alleviation of the ever-growing unemployment rate in the country. Especially as the country has the highest number of graduates who are unemployed. At one stage, when my memory serves me well, the country’s youth unemployment rate was above 60%. This can also help in the building up of the country’s economy which keeps on falling almost every nanosecond of our time. Plus the mining industry can actually employ graduates, as this has shown during the apartheid regime. I am not even comparing the regime with the current government at all costs.

These are admirable attempts. However, as long as there is a market, it will be difficult to put an end to illicit operations just by enhancing law and order and security. We must address the underlying causes. We must discover strategies to strengthen this country’s moral fiber. We need to re-engineer society so that young guys do not see these actions as worthwhile to risk their lives for. Alternatives to a better living must be promoted, as must repercussions for undesirable behavior in general and illicit mining in particular, or the problem will endure.

I think another thing that can be done is that the government must start being more strict because these individuals cannot be treated like criminals. I am saying that we need to have an act that abolishes illegal mining at all costs or criminalizes illegal mining. Did you even see if the country lost out on these bad activities? R 7 billion annually can take millions of students to different universities through National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas), it can help build over a million Reconstruction and Development Programmed (RDP) houses, provide clean water to different communities in the country lastly even to reopen all those factories that were closed like Babelegi (Temba, Gauteng) and others. But what are we doing, we just watch them steal what is actually our property as the citizens of this land. Or when as the reader just imagine what you can do with R7 billion if you were the president of the country. If you would ask me that question, I will mention the unemployment rate, Nsfas, RDP houses, fighting other ailments such as Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and perfect water & sanitation.

But overall illegal mining is the devil that we will need to terminate if we are to be regarded as the African most powerful economy in the continent of Africa. I am hoping you get it so we can utilize this as a form of nationalization of mines by reopening those closed mines. On the administration level, I am thinking if the country can have the young individual who would not be easily influenced then this can work out well for the government’s idea of nationalizing the mines.

I am now resting until we meet again some other time. I am also hoping you are enjoying this young piece from me.

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