It has now been a year since violent clashes erupted between hundreds of illegal miners, mine security and law enforcement along the R64 . . . and while improving relations is an ongoing process, what could have ended in a massacre is proving to be a
DESPITE many unresolved concerns over property and mineral rights, the last 12 months have seen significant strides taken in legitimising the operations of illegal diamond miners working on the floors in and around Kimberley.
Last month marked the one-year anniversary since violent clashes between hundreds of illegal miners, security personnel of the Kimberley Ekapa Mining Joint Venture (KEM-JV) and law enforcement along the R64; and while improving relations is an ongoing process, what could have ended in a massacre is proving to be a model for other mining-affected areas to follow.
With a steady influx of illegal miners in the area over recent years, tensions between the formal and informal mining sector continued to mount.
The situation eventually led to a stand-off between hundreds of illegal miners, police and mine security, clad in riot gear and backed up by Nyalas, while a private helicopter hovered overhead, at the Kenilworth site.
After several hours and without incident, this stand-off came to an end late on the afternoon of August 24, but the illegal miners vowed to be back at their posts the following morning as little had been resolved.
Then, on September 12 2017, scenes along the R64 on the outskirts of Kimberley resembled a war zone, when violent clashes left dozens injured and resulted in the arrests of several illegal miners, including their leaders.
While facing serious allegations, the incident also saw the illegal miners lay criminal charges of their own and demanding to know why mine security had opened fire on them allegedly using police-issued non-lethal ammunition and accusing police and the mining company of an unsavoury relationship.
“The way the (mine) security opened fire on us was completely uncalled for,” one of the miners on the scene said at the time. “All we are doing is trying to put food on the table and earn an honest living, but they shot at us like dogs.”
By the end of January 2018, despite a number of subsequent clashes, an amicable resolution seemed to be on the cards when a plan of action to legitimise the illegal miners’ operations was drafted during a visit to the city by Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources Godfrey Oliphant.
During this visit, it was also announced that the KEM-JV had identified 400 hectares of land for small-scale miners’ operations.
An agreement was then signed on April 30 by representatives from the regional DMR, the KEM-JV, the Sol Plaatje Municipality (SPM) and the Artisanal Miners Kimberley Committee (AMKC), which saw mining permits issued to two co-operatives that were established by the AMKC’s members, allowing for legal operations by nearly a thousand members on two identified sites in Kenilworth and Colville.
The DMR further agreed to expedite the applications for the artisanal miners’ prospecting rights for two additional sites and prioritised ministerial approval of mining rights with respect to properties that were acquired by the KEM-JV from De Beers.
To much fanfare the mining permits were officially handed over on June 7 at the Mayibuye Centre, where it was also announced that the KEM-JV had identified an additional 100 hectares for artisanal mining.
In his address at this event, KEM-JV CEO Jahn Hohne said that there was a place for artisanal miners in the diamond industry as there were sites that were better suited for non-mechanised extraction.
“Illegal mining, such as any other action that is in contravention of the law, is not and will never be acceptable and cannot be condoned, regardless of any valid reasons for people embarking upon it,” he emphasised.
“We must always remember that the formal mining industry remains a pivotal player in the economic success of South Africa and a major employer of South Africans.”