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Can Zama-Zamas in South Africa be integrated into the legal labour force?

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Graphic: Timothy Alexander/African News Agency (ANA)

By Percy Makholwa

Mogale City, west of Johannesburg has been the centre of media and public attention owing to the rape of eight young women by illegal miners.

In addition, there has been a barrage of complaints by residents that rape and murder have been an ongoing reality in this area owing to the presence of the illegal miners known as ‘zama-zamas’.

The phenomenon of illegal miners is an international reality as in Ghana these are called the ‘Galamsey’ and in Mongolia they are known as ‘Ninja Miners.’

South Africa, however, has an unhealthy relationship with these miners.

The support and nurturing such miners often has the potential to eradicate poverty and eliminate the presence of violent gangs who seek to exploit this informal economy.

The link between criminal activities and mining in South Africa stems from the dire living standards of some miners in the country.

Furthermore, the impact that follows the closure of many mines in the country has been great and has proved to affect South African citizens more than non-South Africans individuals.

This is why the South African Department of Home Affairs, the Department of Labour and the Department of Minerals and Energy need to analyse employment in the mining sector and consider and possibly implement the following:

(a) operation-enhancing techniques in the sector

(b) negotiation of mining employment policies that accommodates both South Africans and non-South Africans

(c ) that poverty-related criminal syndicates and gangs in mining towns require a different type of policing and social worker intervention.

The criminal activities that resulted in the raping of the young women and murders in Mogale City are probably not a new phenomenon in mining communities. They may have not be as prevalent in the past due to proper policing mechanisms.

It is perhaps worth noting that migration policies which were inspired by influx control polices may have over the years created housing problems in mining towns, particularly post democracy.

It is therefore vital now more than ever that the Department of Home Affairs guards against repeating history by also creating these influx control policies in the name of combating illegal migration.

The Department of Home Affairs and Human Settlements should rather consider how to integrate the different migrating groups with existing communities with an intention to avoid informal settlements that turn into high-crime zones.

The Department of Labour also needs to consider how to create labour policies that accommodate both South Africans and non-South Africans.

The reality of migrant employment in SA mines and commercial mining will likely translate into integration challenges for post-mining and commercial mining communities in Gauteng.

The pre- and post-issuance of the closure certificates for mines must also have a responsibility clause for surrounding communities and the area of the mine.

In this regard former minister of home affairs Prof Hlengiwe Mkhize said that “… If a mine is not being worked, but a closure certificate has been issued, the owner must take reasonable steps to continually prevent injuries, ill health, loss of life or damage of any kind from occurring at or because of the mine” (Mkhize 2017: 69).

In addition, the Mining Act and Charters need to allow for the decriminalisation of small-scale artisanal mining in South Africa post the operations of big mining companies.

The Department of Minerals and Energy and the Department of Trade and Industry need to facilitate the safety and other compliance issues for these small-scale miners. This will mean that the entry into mining by smaller groups will be less illegal.

The zama-zamas are simply an expression of a policy and implementation gap because the Department of Minerals and Energy may have only invested itself in large-scale mining to the detriment of communities surrounding the mines and the many unskilled labourers in the southern African region.

Makholwa is a researcher in the public sector with 10 years of experience. He is passionate about public policy, project management, cancer research, and development.

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.