Illegal sand miners threaten farmers, water sources

Major abuses of environmental and mining regulations by small-scale sand miners in Limpopo are a serious threat to food and water security in the province, warns Agri SA

Agri SA is calling on President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene and address the harms of illegal Sand Mining in Limpopo. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Agri SA is calling on President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene and address the harms of illegal sand mining in Limpopo. Photos: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Illegal and unregulated sand mining activities is posing serious implications for the environment, food production and management of water resources in Limpopo, says Agri SA. The agricultural organisation is calling on President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene and address the harms of illegal sand mining.

According to Janse Rabie, environmental lawyer and head of Agri SA’s natural resources centre of excellence law and policy executive, Illegal sand mining in the vicinity of the recently proclaimed Musina-Makhado special economic zone is growing at a rapid rate. He says artisanal and small-scale miners in the Sand River basin are reported to be behind the Illegal mining.

The Sand River basin is a tributary of the Limpopo River and one of Southern Africa’s major water courses. The activity of illegal mining, Rabie points out, has reached crisis levels for the agricultural sector the province.

Janse Rabie, environmental lawyer and head of Agri SA’s natural resources centre of excellence. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

“Unregulated sand mines along the Sand River have devastating consequences for farming in the area and the livelihoods these farms support, due to the harmful effects of such activities on the river environment and competition for water,” Rabie said.

The problem is that mining companies are involved and the environmental assessment practitioners (EAPs) are seemingly acting on behalf of illegal miners, seeking to circumvent environmental, and water use license authorisation requirements.

This, Agri SA believes, is being done by applying for multiple mining permits for adjacent areas of about five hectares each. However, when put together this patchwork of permits equate to an extended area of roughly 70 hectares in total.

In the absence of public consultation, a significant number of farmers have already been affected. Many jobs and much needed revenue could be lost unless government acts quickly to curtail this illegal activity, says Rabie.

The problem, however, extends far further than Limpopo. Similar activity is reported across South Africa, Agri SA points out.

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‘Mining abuses must be curbed’

Currently, mining laws in South Africa do not regulate artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) as a discrete form of mining. Instead, a mining permit which is less onerous than a mining right can be obtained, but ASM miners still struggle to meet its requirements.

On 30 March 2022 the minister of mineral resources and energy published the ASM policy which aims to create a formal ASM industry that can operate in a sustainable manner and contribute to the economy.

While the policy also aims to deter illegal mining, Rabie says this cannot be left to the department alone to regulate; especially given the far-reaching consequences of this illegal activity for the environment, the agricultural sector, and the country’s already scarce water resources

Agri SA is writing to President Ramaphosa to request that all applications for mining permits and current mining activities be halted.

The organisation wants the head of state to convene an inter-ministerial panel including the ministers for minerals and energy, water and sanitation, forestry, fisheries and the environment, and agriculture, land reform and rural development.

The goal is to ensure that the ASM policy is not abused to the detriment of our country’s natural resources.

“Current abuses must be curbed swiftly to ensure the future success and sustainability of both the agriculture and mining sectors, and to protect the environment and water resources of the affected areas,” Rabie says

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