By Mbangwa Xaba

The local mining industry’s silence, following the gang rape of eight innocent young women at one of their mine dumps in Krugersdorp, is unsettling. It is disgusting, especially in a country battling gender-based violence. To make matters worse, this happened at a time when we are celebrating Women’s Month. Then again, this cold and insensitive attitude is all too familiar. It is consistent with this industry’s disdain toward black people as a norm. The fate these young women suffered is the same misery and pain that has been visited upon black people since the likes of Cecil John Rhodes discovered the natural treasure of this land.
It mirrors the cocky swag that all colonialists, the British in particular, have displayed from the moment they set foot on our shores. It is always peppered with sadistic poking of the noses of a nation they take pleasure in subjugating. It is now morally wrong because they have ruined our people to a point where poverty is guaranteed for generations. As part of this custom, to this day, one of the British monarch’s treasured assets is the world’s largest diamond – the Cullinan – that was mined here in Mzansi. It is placed in the front of the Imperial State Crown as a symbol of power. Little wonder that a large dose of this conceitedness can still be found in those who betrayed the Krugersdorp rape victims.
They irresponsibly abandoned the mines with the full knowledge that the people will suffer the consequences. This bad situation has been made worse by an absent-minded government.
Credit must go to the people of Mohlakeng. To confront heavily armed illegal immigrants – thugs who brandish automatic weapons with which they have terrorised communities of the West Rand with absolute impunity, was nothing short of heroism. In a matter of hours, after a crime that outraged the nation, the people dealt with those monsters decisively.
They razed the hoodlums’ shacks down and hunted them like animals that they are. This could have ensured cessation of a major criminal operation. It could have nipped the scourge of this particular crime in this area in the bud. But, alas, that won’t be the case. Only those who made off with mountains of wealth from these mines can come up with a permanent solution. Having looted all the wealth, they left the land in ruins, thus creating juicy conditions for a brutal legacy of poverty, crime and gripe.
These people are so cruel they have turned poverty into a weapon of mass destruction. Illegal mining in South Africa is one of the most vicious bi-products of poverty. And they knew it. As early as 2004, government and the mining companies realised that we were headed to where we are today.
They committed to sealing disused mines and rehabilitating the land, only to renege later. Funds, as well as laws governing this funding, were put in place. Financial provisions for rehabilitation were put up.
These provisions came in three forms – cash guarantees, bank guarantees and mine closure trust funds – and were supposed to be either held by or audited by the government. They would only be made available to a company when it applied for and received a closure certificate.
Nearly R60 billion was set aside for the rehabilitation of close to 6,000 mines across South Africa. It was also agreed that the money would not be made available while a mine was still operational.
That money is still to be touched.
Mining companies never bothered to declare their mines closed. Why should they? They made their money and after all, who cares what happens to the poor? According to the Daily Maverick, the Minerals Council South Africa and the government had intimate knowledge about illegal mining. They knew the structures, hierarchy and the value chain of illegal mining. The report states that there is a five-tier hierarchy in the illegal and unregulated gold-mining industry.
“Illegal miners are on the bottom tier. Gangs and illegal mining bosses, licensed bulk buyers (scrap metal dealers and pawnbrokers) at national or regional level, front company exporters and international intermediaries and companies are the more significant criminal actors. “The Institute of Security Studies estimates that about 30,000 illegal miners produce R14 billion worth of gold per annum. From the state’s perspective, this is ‘lost production’. The United Arab Emirates and Switzerland have been identified as the primary export destinations,” stated the report.
It goes on to explain that those who spend long periods underground digging for gold faced many dangers, including rock falls, methane poisoning and underground fires.
Invariably, such desperation comes with nefarious activities like illegal drug and gun trade, prostitution and human trafficking.
The mining industry’s recklessness is enough to make its bosses the co-accused in the gang rape of the eight young women. They are just as responsible for other assortment of mayhem that came before and that which is still to come – because most certainly, more is coming. The heroism of the people of Mohlakeng is all but betrayed. Each day, we will wake up to mine dumbs and illegal mining that comes with it. The attended terror, including sabotage of infrastructure and systematic economic marginalisation of the majority poor will still persist and, of course, crime will rise. In fact, we can lock up all the zama zamas and throw away the key, but poverty here and wherever else they came from will still be there. That’s the reason they are here in the first place, and it won’t just disappear.
Clearly, we are in this situation because this world is a “paradise that the rich have made hell for the poor,” as the French writer and politician, Victor-Marie Hugo, once observed.
“Bear in mind that a series of kings armed with swords were interrupted with Cromwell with the axe.”
This warning from Hugo should serve as a sobering reminder to the wealthy mining industry, together with our scatter-brained government. They are concocting their own demise, as well as that of all the super-rich.
Besides finding lasting solutions to their mess, the wealthy must now appreciate the need for inclusive economic solutions. Far too many people live in poverty. It is not only unsustainable; it is also detrimental to us all. Poverty breeds crime. Given the enormity of our impoverishment, I can bet you my last cent that it is not inconceivable that every South African has experienced crime in one form or another.
A word of advice to the democratic government: if you can find time between your trips to courts, Parliament or commissions of inquiry to defend all kinds malfeasances or attending to incessant factional feuding, please legalise artisanal and small-scale mining. The sector has a great potential to create jobs in a society facing a sea of unemployment and destitution. Currently, although it operates illegally, it is estimated to have tens of thousands of participants with tens of billions of rand in turnover per annum. This is an obvious opportunity for entrepreneurship and poverty alleviation. While at it, do something about the informal recycling business. It is the next bomb close to its timed explosion.

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