In the last issue of the Kruger Park Times, the article “Illegal mines flourish” stated that the department of minerals and energy had not responded to a media query about what the department does about illegal sand mining. The reply came in after the newspaper had gone to press. According to minerals and energy, the department ‘polices’ all mining activities.
The department can designated an official as an ‘authorised person’. This official can then obtain a warrant from a magistrate to enter the area where the suspected illegal mine is, often after office hours. If illegal mining is ongoing, “The department does not prosecute anyone.
The department institutes criminal proceedings through the South African Police Service (SAPS) by lodging a complaint and then having the SAPS investigating the alleged offence whereupon it would be in the discretion, based on evidence, as to whether the public prosecutor recommends the case to be tried in a court of law.”
The department adds that a fine for illegally mining sand would be expected to be set at about R10,000. When it comes to the environmental management of sand mines, the department of minerals and energy distinguishes between mining permits and mining rights.
Mining permits are issued to mines that occupy less than 1.5ha and only operate for a maximum of five years, and most sand mines fall into this category. The environmental requirements to obtain a mining permit are far less rigorous than those for a mining right.
To get a mining permit, a prospective sand miner does not have to conduct an environmental impact assessment (EIA), but just has to submit an environmental management plan to the department of minerals and energy indicating how they intend to manage and rehabilitate the environmental impact. This plan is evaluated by DME officials, not by environmental affairs.
For bigger, more permanent mines that need mining rights, an environmental impact assessment has to be conducted, but this is not carried out in the manner proscribed by the department of environmental affairs. It follows guidelines set out by the department of minerals and energy and is evaluated by the department’s own environmental officials.
At some time in the future, it is expected that the departments of minerals and energy and environmental affairs will collaborate over EIAs. According to environmental affairs, “this will only come into effect on a future date once the required law reform and amendments in terms of both the minerals and petroleum resources development act and the national environmental management act have been finalised and the necessary agreements between the DME and Deat are in place.”