Legalise zama zamas: ‘Miners not hurting SA’

The growing number of zama zamas is an example of the way in which formal employment is giving way to unorganised, marginalised and desperate workers trying to survive by any means possible: Saftu. File photo Image by: Gallo Images / City Press / Leon Sadiki
Zama zamas are not committing a crime and that is why the government should decriminalise illegal mining, experts say.

“They contribute a lot to the economy because a lot of the minerals end up back in the formal market, and they are selling it for a lot less than big mines do,” he said.

Dozens of illegal miners died in Welkom in the Free State last week after an underground explosion, with the death toll estimated to be more than 40.

Mbangula said the government should reassess their stance on zama zamas.

“They are not committing any crimes. Yes, they are breaking the law doing these things, but all they are trying to do is put bread on the table. They’re just trying to survive,” he said.

Legislation on the issue is clear, with the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act 28 of 2002 stating that any mining activity must be done with the required statutory authorisation and permits.

“If illegal mining is formalised it would create a lot of jobs in these mining communities because there are around 6000 abandoned mines where these people work,” Mbangula said.

Robert Thornton, who has done a lot of research on illegal mining in South Africa and Zimbabwe, agreed with Mbangula.

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He said: “The irony is that today there are more illegal miners than legal miners.”

He said: “The irony is that today there are more illegal miners than legal miners.”

Thornton said he was in support of legalising informal mining, because it would allow more protection for zama zamas.

“Most of them say their biggest threat is the police, who destroy their equipment. Legalising them would protect them from the police, and it will allow them to use safety equipment, which they fear using now because police just come and destroy it,” he said.

Besides safety, Thornton said legalising illegal mining would have a positive effect in the communities they work in as their work contributes a lot to local economies.

The Department of Mineral Resources and the Chamber of Mines, however, remain steadfast in their stance against illegal mining.

Last week the SA Federation of Trade Unions said it demanded that “these super-exploited workers be legalised, trained and given the opportunity to work.

“The growing number of zama zamas working in mines is an extreme example of the way in which formal employment is giving way to unorganised, marginalised and desperate workers trying to survive by any means possible,” Saftu said in a statement.

Jan Bornman

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