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Small–scale mining in South Africa: Past, present and future

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Mining is an important part of the South African economy and has been the driver of much of the economic development of the country. However, the small–scale mining subsector still has to realise its full potential.

A small–scale mine has been defined as a mining activity employing less than 50 people and with an annual turnover of less than 7.5 million Rand and includes artisanal mines. Small–scale miners are involved in many commodities but there appears to be a bias towards gold, diamonds and quarrying for construction materials, including brickclays. Small–scale mining is regulated by the same legislation (i.e., for the environment, labour, mineral rights, exploration and mining permitting, and skills development) as large–scale mining, though compliance is low, particularly where artisanal mining in concerned.

The effective participation of small–scale miners in the mining sector is hampered by their lack of skills, i.e., technical, business and management, and their limited access to mineral deposits, capital and markets. Some of these hindrances have been inherited from the imbalances of the colonial and apartheid eras and continue to act as barriers, making entrance to the industry difficult. For those who have entered the industry out of desperation, as is the case with most artisanal miners, their activities result in negative impacts evident in the inefficient, unsafe and environmentally unfriendly operations.

With the advent of the new political dispensation in South Africa, a new era is dawning for the country’s small–scale mining subsector. This has resulted in a change of attitude and new government policies which have led to special programmes being put in place to promote the subsector. Intervention strategies for the support of small–scale mining (some of which are already in operation) include programmes for kickstarting mineral beneficiation and value–addition projects, development of appropriate technologies and skills and technology transfer. Proponents of small–scale mining see a well–regulated industry as being the cornerstone of future rural economic development, particularly for previously disadvantaged communities in the poverty nodes.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Mintek, South Africa

Publication date: 2002-11-01

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