Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Illegal miners cough up for food supplies

Food syndicates are creaming it by sending down heftily priced nosh and booze to illegal gold miners.

A loaf of bread and a braai pack cost the same at R200 each, while a bottle of Amarula to relieve the symptoms of TB costs R1,500.

Retrenchment and inflation are but relative things ...

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The phenomenon of food syndicates is on the increase, together with a rise in illegal mining activity. Illegal miners often wander through underground tunnels from one mine to another without food or water.

The need to provide food has given rise to the food syndicates, Ambrose Khuzwayo, Harmony Gold group head in the Free State, told the mining portfolio committee.

His presentation formed part of the committee's hearings on illegal mining following the June death of 89 illegal miners in the Harmony-Eland shaft in the Free State.

A food syndicate can demand up to R200 for a loaf of bread that usually costs R8. A "braai pack" worth R40 costs an illegal miner R200, and the price of a bottle of Amarula liqueur, costing R180, is hiked to R1 500 underground. Khuzwayo says Amarula is thought to be worth this much because the miners believe it can cure TB.

Sandile Nogxina, director-general of the Department of Mining, said the number of illegal miners is increasing because of the recession and the retrenchments at mines. The Free State mining workforce alone has been cut by 76%.

This year 844 people have so far been arrested for illegal mining activities, compared with 757 in 2008. A mining company could previously prosecute illegal miners only on grounds of trespassing.

Since the end of last year, however, they can be charged with contravening the Mine Safety and Health Act, as well as stealing mine property, explains Peter Bishop of the Hawks special investigation unit (previously the Scorpions).

Bishop says the biggest problem was that the ultimate buyers (local and foreign) obtain the minerals illegally. He says regulation does not exist overseas, while South Africa is practically the only country in which second-hand trade in gold is regulated.

At international level investigations are being directed at treating this type of trade in minerals the same as money laundering.

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