Government losing war against illegal sand miners

Minister of Water and Sanitation, Nomvula Mokonyane, said the impact of sand river mining on South Africa’s waterways could no longer be ignored.

Minister of Water and Sanitation, Nomvula Mokonyane, said the impact of sand river mining on South Africa's waterways could no longer be ignored.

Speaking at the Sand River Mining Consultative Workshop with traditional leaders at Illovo, KwaZulu-Natal, Mokonyane said one of the chief concerns for her department was the impact that this had on water quality. South Africa is already a dry country and has just emerged from a severe drought. 

However, that is not the only issue. The flow (surface flow, interflow, ground-water flow), ecological connectivity, aesthetics, natural scenery and recreational use of the waterways are all under the spotlight and red flags are being raised in most spheres.

Then there is also the small matter of air quality, which is also affected by the mining activity in rivers.

At this juncture, the jury is out on what government can and will do about the problems that have emerged, even though it appears the department does have a firm handle on issues at hand.

"The issue of a Mining Permit or Mining Right in the absence of a water-use authorization is a serious challenge," Mokonyane told guests, highlighting the extent of the illegal activity that had been taking place.

"There needs to be alignment in the authorization processes of the two departments, namely, the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) and the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS)," added Mokonyane.

"Some of the issued directives have been challenged at court by the sand miners, claiming that they have a mining permit or a mining right.

"The department has encountered a challenge of resistance in different forms from the regulated community, which has caused difficulties in the department's monitoring programmes and has, at times, threatened the safety of officials," explained Mokonyane.

Not even the violent protests from KwaZulu-Natal communities have been able to deter the miners, as a considerable amount remains at stake for them.

The safety of government officials and investigators has also come under the spotlight, highlighting just how far miners are prepared to go, to protect their investments. That ultimately comes at a cost though, as people's livelihoods are impacted by the mining activity.

"Some officials have been threatened by gun-carrying mining operators and told not to return to site," said a concerned Mokonyane.

"This may be due to lack of jobs; and lack of understanding of the direct impacts this may have on the community such as disturbed water supply, pollution and accidents to cattle and even children in the community.

"Another challenge faced in KwaZulu-Natal is that some traditional leaders give permission to the sand miners to undertake sand mining activities in the river without obtaining the necessary environmental authorizations," added Mokonyane.

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