South Africa’s military sent to suppress illegal mining

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South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has ordered a deployment of thousands of military personnel to aid in a nationwide crackdown on illegal mining, an activity that is believed to result in losses worth billions of dollars for the country annually.

The presidency anounced on Thursday that 3,300 army personnel would collaborate with the police in an escalated campaign to combat illegal mining spanning all provinces. This initiative, part of President Ramaphosa’s “Operation Prosper,” is scheduled to operate until April 2024, aiming to establish law and order.

In a previous instance under the same operation, Ramaphosa had dispatched the army to the Western Cape province in 2019 to combat gang violence.

Illegal gold mining has persistently posed a threat in South Africa for many years, driven by poverty, unemployment, and rising crime, which has had detrimental effects on the country’s attractiveness to investors and the profits of mining companies. The individuals involved in informal mining, referred to as “zama zamas,” take considerable risks as they venture into abandoned mines and crude tunnels without safety precautions. A tragic gas explosion in May resulted in the deaths of around 31 illegal miners in the city of Welkom, with rescue operations hampered by high methane levels in the mine and the threat of further explosions. In another incident in July 17 people, including three children, lost their lives in a settlement near Johannesburg.

It is estimated that approximately 6,000 abandoned gold mines exist in the country, and environmentalists have cautioned about the legacy of poverty and health issues left by industrial mining in adjacent regions.

The emergence of informal mining has been linked to a surge in gang violence and territorial conflicts. There are at least 30,000 illegal miners that work in and around thousands of unused and active mines across South Africa.

Also, illicit mining activities present a challenge to legally operating mines, resulting in annual losses of up to 7 billion rand ($376 million). These activities lead to the loss of tens of billions of rand in export earnings, taxes, and royalties for South Africa’s economy.

Indonesia is another country facing problems with illegal mining. Due to illegal nickel mining, Indonesia has needed to import substantial quantities of ore from the Philippines to sustain the operation of its smelters. Indonesia is the world’s largest nickel producer and has been plagued with delays in the issuance of quotas for nickel mining. In May and June, more than 53,000 tonnes of nickel ore and concentrates were shipped from the Philippines. These imports continued until October.

The Indonesian government stated that the illicit mining had resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost state revenue. In the summer, the government launched an anti-corruption campaign and a crackdown on the illegal mines.

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