Illegal sand mining a new menace
Desperate residents have turned to government for help to stop the illegal mining of sand in their areas. The complainants are concerned about the environmental impact the activity poses through land scarring and soil erosion.
The department of mineral resources has since responded to the concern by establishing illegal mining forums to create awareness of the scourge. Departmental spokesman Phuthi Mabelebele said they would also host a small scale mining imbizo in Limpopo next month to address mining regulations and environmental matters.
But some residents in Moletjie near Polokwane, including Mahwibitswane and Ga-Komape villages, are now on the brink of losing communal grazing lands as a result of the illegal activities.
Holes deeper than three metres have been created by illegal miners who use shovels, large trucks and sometimes excavators.
According to a 2014 research by the South African Institute of International Studies, the illegal extraction of sand is becoming a lucrative business in SA, supplying bricks and tiles producers.
However, the article also warns of irreversible damage to the environment.
Mahwibitswane village council secretary, Makweya Mathatho, said the community recently approached the department of mineral resources for help. The department responded by ordering the miners to vacate the area.
"You are instructed to terminate your operations, with immediate effect. Take note that should you ignore this directive and continue with mining without a valid permit issued in your name, the Minister of the Department of Mineral Resources will refer the matter to the South African Police Service for intervention," the letter from the department states.
However Mathatho said some of the operators continued despite the warning. "It is now dangerous for us and our animals. During the rainy season the holes fill up with water. The animals and people can drown in there," he said.
Cattle herder Peter Molokomme said at some point the community had to rescue cows that had fallen into one of the dongas after heavy rains.
Sowetan saw miners loading sand onto a truck with shovels as one truck was leaving the area with a full load at Ga-Komape village. One man told Sowetan they sold the sand for R400 per load.
Aggregate and Sand Producers Association of Southern Africa recently told the SA Human Rights Commission that the biggest culprits were road builders and municipalities who do not comply with mining laws.
Chairman, Nico Pienaar, said this was also affecting the industry because illegal operators often charged cheaper prices because they did not pay VAT and do not comply with labour laws.
Pienaar said it was unlikely that the environment could be rehabilitated as illegal miners operated without a long-term plan. "If it's not stopped, things will get bad. People will die in those holes," he said.