Preventing Illegal Mining: A Holistic and Collaborative Approach
In this podcast, Stephen Nthite, a director at Beech Veltman Incorporated, chats to Africa Legal’s Thomas Pearson about illegal mining in South Africa and how it intersects with the sector’s response to environmental and social governance.
South Africa is a mineral resource-rich country, with precious metals like gold, diamonds and copper among others, but mining these commodities without authorised legislation is illegal and there are many ramifications to doing so, says Stephen Nthite.
Nthite has over 27 years’ experience in the legal sector, with a specific interest in occupational health and safety, environmental law and community engagement initiatives.
While some large scale mining companies and artisanal miners have licences to extract mineral resources, he says that illegal mining has become predominant in certain parts of the country. For example, in the Northwest province there are many alluvial diamonds and people could just dig a little hole and pick one up.
“There’s a lot of illegal mining activity going on there. Diamonds, unlike gold, are quite easy to handle and process. They don’t take a lot of engineering work and all of the stuff that’s required to deal with them. The only difficulty with diamonds and the environment has to do with mercury that the illegal miners use. It’s uncontrolled and unsupervised and sometimes extremely dangerous – not only to the lives of people around the illegal mining area, but also to the illegal miners themselves. Quite a lot of them have died as a result of exposure to mercury,” says Nthite.
However, following recommendations from a Human Rights Commission report, various South African government departments and the Mining Council have been working together to stop illegal mining.
Nthite says Beech Veltman Incorporated always advises their clients that if there is suspicion of illegal mining, the intelligence gathered should be handed over to government law enforcement agencies to deal with.
He also stresses the importance of having a good working relationship with the communities in which the mines operate and to always consider social labour plans that benefit the local population, including training and reskilling.
“We advise our clients to have a collaborative approach with the surrounding communities, because if you don’t talk to them or you talk to them via the government, they see you as this outsider who has come to steal their minerals and run away with the exports and money.”
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