When the rubber bullets rained down on them and when the courts ruled against them, they still pursued the dream of finding the elusive, purest natural form of carbon on earth: the diamond. Kimberley’s so-called Zama Zama’s now have 600Ha of land plus a tailings dump that will keep them busy with artisanal mining for the next couple of years. It was the Office of the Premier that unlocked doors for them, when Premier Sylvia Lucas wrote a letter to the Ministry of Mineral Resources begging for intervention to find a lasting solution to the plight of the artisanal miners.
This intervention came after years of struggle with litigation and heavy-handed tactics form the mining companies, and, in spite of a constitutional court judgement against the artisanal miners. After a march by the artisanal miners to Premier’s Office in March 2017, Premier Lucas constituted a team that was mandated to assist the artisanal miners to ensure legality of their operations and to mediate between the miners, SAPS and the mining companies. At the time the Premier’s Office pointed out that “we shall spare no effort in ensuring that we work with our people to improve their quality of life, as envisioned by the strategic mandate of the Office of the Premier.”
The Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources, Godfrey Oliphant was in Kimberley recently to celebrate the legalisation of the artisanal miners and the addition of more diamondiferous ground for the artisanal miners. At the centre of the saga was the dispute of who owns the land and if the artisanal miners had the right to mine without a permit. After the Premier’s letter, Deputy Minister Oliphant convened a meeting with all role-players including Ekapa –Petra JV, the artisanal miners, The Premier’s office , the Swedish Housing Company and Sol Plaatje Municipality. The first phase of the agreement saw 500 Ha of land being allocated for the sole purpose of artisanal mining (without use of machinery) and the application for permits being processed to legalise the activities of the miners.
Another 100 Ha and a tailings dump have been added to the now legal artisanal miners’ area of operation. In an interview with SolomonStar, the Deputy Minister for Mineral Resources was elated with the culmination of all efforts has resulted in a win-win situation for all parties. Oliphant said that “this is one of the first agreements of its kind that is not on state land and we want this to be the benchmark for future similar cases.”
Oliphant furthermore indicated that the Mining Qualifications Authority (MQA) and the S.A. Diamond and Precious Metals Regulator (SADPMR) have also been requested to assist with further training, development and the licensing of more diamond dealers. Some of the artisanal miners have already been licenced as rough diamond dealers. The miners will now be able to sell their diamonds to the open market and even make 10% available to the State Diamond Trader, if they so wish.
Mr Lucky Seekoei, the chairperson of the Artisanal Miners shared the sentiments of the Deputy Minister and was also upbeat about the future. “We have a very prosperous future, because we now have permits. We can now sell to the market. We no longer have to keep money under the mattress after you sell a diamond. We will now contribute to the GDP, because we will be paying tax and we will comply with rules and regulations.” Seekoei said. The permits have been issued to co-operatives that were established by the artisanal miners, which will be used to sell the diamonds to the market.
It is estimated that there are more than 5000 artisanal miners in the Kimberley area, many of whom are from places like Warrenton, Windsorton, Barkly West, Delportshoop, and Taung and as far as Lesotho. There are plans afoot to provide proper human settlements for the artisanal miners and their families who are currently staying in shanties and makeshift structures without any basic services.
The artisanal miners currently mine the “floor” of previous dump sites and is a method not commonly being used in the rest of South Africa. Unlike other small mining operations, the artisanal mining operations involve no mechanical equipment as all mining is done by hand digging with pick and shovel using two sifters and sorting by hand.
In an unrelated development, De Beers recently announced plans to work with artisanal miners in Sierra Leone.
According to Rappaport News, an online source for news and prices for the diamond industry, the diamond giant aims to ensure that the gem stones form the artisanal miners are ethically sourced and sold at a fair price on its auction platform. “The artisanal mining sector represents a critical income source for many poverty-affected communities,” said De Beers CEO Bruce Cleaver. “However, due to parts of the sector being largely informal and unregulated, it lacks access to established international markets and the ability to derive fair value for participants.” Miners who want to participate in the program need to receive certification from the Diamond Development Initiative (DDI) as well as from GemFair. Participants will then be given a diamond “toolkit,” which includes technology enabling them to digitally track all stones throughout the supply chain. It seems that the future of artisanal miners will become part of the national, continental and global mining mix going forward.
The South African diamond industry is no longer the global leader it used to be. Russia now holds what is believed to be the world’s largest and richest diamond resources. They are the world’s largest producer and exporter of rough diamonds by volume. Botswana is the leading diamond-producing country in terms of value, and the second largest in terms of volume, implying that our SADC neighbour’s diamonds are more valuable than those of Moscow. Artisanal mining currently constitutes an insignificant portion of total world sales, but in countries like Sierra Leone, DRC, Angola and Tanzania its contribution is on the rise.