By Kotie Geldenhuys
Illegal mining can have severe and a lasting impact on the environment. Its consequences are broad and affect various aspects of ecosystems, biodiversity and the well-being of local communities. Criminal syndicates involved in illegal mining exploit soaring precious metal prices, without having any regard for the significant environmental devastation of their operations.
Illegal mining is frequently associated with what are commonly referred to as abandoned or ownerless mines. At the Second Annual Mine Security Conference which was held in June 2023 in Johannesburg, Maj-Gen Alfred Khana, the Head of Serious Organised Crime of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) emphasised that mines are never truly ownerless. He clarified that any area above the ground is the property of the purchaser, in this case the mining company, while anything below the surface belongs to the State. Even though mine owners must possess licences granting them the right to excavate and extract resources from beneath the ground, the mine can never be considered ownerless as it fundamentally remains the property of the State. His explanation underscores the importance of why the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) has to step in and assume responsibility, ensuring oversight to ensure that mining companies restore the surface to prevent illicit mining activities.
[This is only an extract of an article that is published in Servamus: January 2024. This article is available for purchase.]