For The People

Mining – a sunrise industry

The guiding document of the governing party, the Freedom Charter, states that SA’s mineral wealth will be transferred to the people. The constitution has established a democracy that requires meaningful participation by people in decisions that affect their rights and interests.

In spite of this, the former liberation movement in power today often acts with little regard for the wishes of the communities directly affected with the grinding problem of unemployment in the areas of mining. De Beers mined in Kleinzee erf 654, and shut down the operations in 2009 after which illegal miners took over the land. Young people around Namaqualand have given up finding a job in the economically depressed province and found the risk of illegal mining worth the money.

Data from Minerals Council South Africa, shows that over the past year, illegal mining has started to encroach on the diamond fields of Kimberley and Kleinzee in the Northern Cape.

In its current form, despite giving legal recognition to the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector, the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act enables illegal activity and hinders the ability of police to prevent criminality.

Two South African diamond operations took an unprecedented step in 2018 by allowing ‘zama-zama miners’ to mine tailings on their properties through a cooperation agreement, creating a possible model for other operations to mimic. Such arrangements allow for artisanal and small-scale mining within an industrial concession, but set parameters on how artisanal miners work and sell their production.

Meanwhile, the current Act mandates the South African Diamond and Precious Metals Regulator to license, monitor and investigate mining permit holders – a role that should either be shared with the police or be returned to the exclusive control of the police.

This would provide law enforcement greater latitude and oversight to spot trends, undertake proactive due diligence on permit applicants and monitor the business activities of criminally exposed entities.

The Northern Cape has the potential to reuse its old mines through the latest technologies. The province is better known as the source of 95% of SA’s diamond output and, in more recent history, has emerged as a major producer of high-quality iron ore and manganese, as it holds 80% of the planet’s resources.

Orion Minerals is developing a flagship zinc copper project at Copperton, an Anglovaal mine that produced 1Mt of zinc and 430,000t of copper before it closed in 1991. In Okiep, the oldest mining town in South Africa, a number of operators are working on projects that could revive production. The R4bn project will be established on Copperton’s footprint and will tap into one of the world’s most significant volcanogenic massive sulphide deposits, a rich source of metals including copper, lead, and zinc.

Copper put the Namaqualand region on the map in 1685 when Simon van der Stel, the first governor of the Cape Colony, led an expedition north in search of fabled resources. He found copper in the mountains of Namaqualand, just outside what is now Springbok, but logistics thwarted any profitable production at the time. Production began there an earnest 150 years later, and thereafter at the nearby Okiep copper mines. Over the years, copper has been mined profitably in the region and there was a fair amount of exploration. Activity dissipated in the 1980s when base metal prices remained depressed.

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