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Illegal miners get go-ahead

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“It is clear that the Freedom Charter is being implemented and that the people are taking over from Nelson Mandela and going forward.”

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WHILE an agreement that will assist in legitimising the operations of nearly a thousand artisanal miners has been widely welcomed, the true impact of this latest development remains to be seen as the estimated number of illegal miners operating on sites in and around Kimberley far exceeds the 836 individuals that has been stipulated in writing.

At a press conference on Monday, government and representatives of the artisanal miners hailed the signing of the agreement as a significant milestone in the country’s history, but with the estimated local illegal miner population, stated during legal battles, more than double that on the list attached to this agreement, an end to the conflict may still prove elusive.

The agreement was signed on Thursday and has been greeted with newfound optimism by some, particularly among the miners who were able to celebrate Workers’ Day by panning for diamonds without fear of breaking the law.

At the regional offices of the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) on Monday morning, the chairman of the Artisanal Miners Kimberley Committee (AMKC), Lucky Seekoei, described the signed document as a “trophy” for the hundreds of miners who will now be able to operate legally, saying that the agreement was in line with late president Nelson Mandela’s vision for South Africa.

“This has not been an easy path to travel as there were many doors that needed to be opened,” Seekoei said at Monday’s press briefing. “Today we can say that the doors have been opened for the people to share the mineral wealth.

“It is clear that the Freedom Charter is being implemented and that the people are taking over from Nelson Mandela and going forward.”

While Seekoei acknowledged that the agreement was a major milestone, he emphasised that there was still plenty of hard work in store for all concerned.

“Our responsibility now is to not just sit around, talking too much and doing nothing. Now is the time when jobs must be created. It is not just the responsibility of government to create jobs, and with this co-operative we will be able to provide work for the people.”

In October 2016, the South African Sweden International Housing Company (SASIHC) applied for an eviction order in the Northern Cape High Court against trespassers on its property, including illegal miners.

However, on Monday, Michelle Goliath from the SASIHC said that, in the interim, there had been plenty of developments and subsequent efforts to resolve the matter, culminating in the signing of the agreement last week.

“This has been a very long journey but it is one that I am proud to have been part of,” she said. “Many people have been involved and have conducted themselves with integrity and high moral standards during this process.

“These people could have given up their cause but we are very glad that they didn’t.

“We will continue to be their partner going forward.”

The Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources, Godfrey Oliphant, congratulated the various role-players for reaching the agreement and emphasised that it is an example that can be followed by mining communities across the country.

“This year, these miners will be entering Workers’ Day working for themselves,” he said at a press conference at the DMR’s provincial offices on Monday morning.

“We are meeting today to celebrate this agreement, which is the first of its kind in our country.”

The deputy minister said that it was commendable that no lives had been lost in the process of reaching the agreement, adding that the nature of the artisanal miners’ operations made them comparatively safer than the extraction of gold and other minerals as there was no risk of collapsing tunnels.

“We are glad to have reached a point where such a balanced agreement can be signed without loss of life,” said Oliphant.

In their absence from the press conference, Oliphant thanked the Kimberley Ekapa Mining Joint Venture (KEM-JV) for its part in the agreement.

At the time of going to press yesterday, no response to media enquiries had been received from the KEM-JV.