Illegal miners work on a disused mine in Welkom, Free State.  Picture: SOWETAN
Illegal miners work on a disused mine in Welkom, Free State. Picture: SOWETAN

Oxfam SA has called on the government to decriminalise informal mining‚ which it says is largely misunderstood. The charitable organisation made the statement after 14 illegal miners were found dead this week in derelict mines in Benoni on Gauteng’s East Rand.

The death of a five-year-old boy, who fell into a disused mine, also underscored the problem‚ Oxfam said. "We call on the South African government to decriminalise informal mining‚ and for this sector, which is worth billions of rand, to be properly regulated and licensed as envisioned by the UN’s African Mining Vision‚" the non-governmental organisation said in a statement. "The government must acknowledge the role of artisanal mining in macro-economic development‚ in household income‚ job creation and securing livelihoods for the majority of the poor and unemployed."

Oxfam said it was a myth that "all informal miners are non-nationals‚ illegal migrants‚ part of syndicates, or [mine] with the intention to become part of the wider syndicates and underground gangs. Naturally, when under threat these unregulated miners respond by defending and arming themselves. Lawlessness will mount if this issue and related issues are not addressed properly".

"It is a dereliction of duty and a display of short-sightedness to only act when there is loss of life. Oxfam SA is ready to partner with others and with the government to unpack the dynamics and opportunities which lie in a proactive approach on informal mining."

It cited a report by the Human Rights Commission‚ which called for more research into informal mining. "Building the evidence base in this case entails looking into building trust and networks in this sector, and removing the suspicion that shrouds such activities. This means identifying the size‚ shape and scope of artisanal mining‚" the 2015 report said.

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