South Africa is rich in natural resources, especially of the kind that lies underground. For this reason, the mining industry in South Africa has been booming for the last couple of years. But at what cost? Here are five shocking facts on the mining conditions in South Africa.
Miners Are Exploited
The South mining industry is riddled with illegal gold excavation and scrapping, which amounts to USD 550 million per year. These unlawful mining activities are done by ‘zama-zamas’ or gold slaves who are victims of human trafficking. A 19-yeard old boy named Agrippa Machako, a former zama-zama, described the appalling conditions in his story.
Machako was one of the 30 Zimbabwean youths who was taken to South Africa to be sold to crime syndicates. He remembered being bought by someone for USD 70. Afterwards, he was sent to a covert mining ground to earn nine grams of gold per week for his freedom.
According to Machako’s story, an average zama-zama was brought captive for two to eight weeks. They received food, but no payment. Since a zama-zamas didn’t bear a passport, they had no means of communication or travel. Most zama-zamas were too scared to make attempts to escape.
But even with legally-employed miners, conditions are still harsh. According to an ILO article, South African miners typically suffer from silicosis, tuberculosis, and even HIV. Miners are also regularly exposed to hazards such as falling rocks, extreme temperatures, dust, noise, and others.
Regulations Are Reckless
While the South African government has been taking steps to improve the mining conditions in the country, the provisions are considered “reckless.” The latest Mining Charter aimed to provide equal access to the nation’s mineral wealth among its citizens. But according to AngloGold Ashanti Chairman Sipho Pityana, the Charter made it difficult for companies to buy and sell assets.
Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe recently issued a new draft for the mining charter. However, it will undergo public scrutiny just like the last draft of the mining charter, which drew strong opposition from the industry.
The difficulty of doing business in the industry will affect investments, Pityana claimed. The current proposal on the table may have good intentions, but they will only destroy the sector once implemented. Pityana warns that not only will “reckless” regulations affect the industry, but also the South African economy as a whole.
Mineral Resources Are Depleting
The South African mining industry faces another pressing issue: their depleting mineral resources. South African gold mines are one of the deepest in the world, making ore extraction already difficult. But with a depleting ore body and aging infrastructures, mining companies are asking if there’s still anything to mine.
According to a report published in Bloomberg, South Africa has contracted its most platinum production in two years. Platinum production shrank 8.4% from last year, while gold output has lowered to 18%. To make things worse, mining companies came under pressure from the stronger rand at the start of 2018. This event has resulted in some companies closing mines and relinquishing workers.
And the worse part? This trend may continue for the following years. Mining Analyst Peter Major believes that recovery in the sector is a “fairy tale story.” He said that hoping for the industry to be better is only wishful thinking.
Once a booming industry, the South African mining sector looks inches away from a total collapse. Not only is the industry riddled with modern slavery issues, but investors are having difficulty doing business. That’s why it is no wonder the sector is spiraling to a downward slope.
But does it mean that the South African mining industry is coming to a close? What do you think?