Small-scale mining on the rise

Phaega Gad Kwata, director of small-scale mininng in the department of mineral resources. (Photo: Simon Makwela)

Phaega Gad Kwata, director of small-scale mininng in the department of mineral resources. (Photo: Simon Makwela)

The small-scale mining industry in Limpopo has weathered some challenging times, but there appears to be good news on the horizon, according to Pheaga Kwata, director of small-scale mining in the department of mineral resources.

From extending the lifespan of existing projects to reopening dormant mines, there is positive movement in the industry and all indications are that it is on its way to recovery after several years of stagnant growth cause by various challenges, Kwata told the Mail & Guardian.

In his presentation, Small-Scale Mining Support, Regulatory Framework and Opportunities, Kwata said small-scale mining activities are viable, sustainable economic projects capable of making a meaningful contribution to decent employment creation, poverty alleviation and increased economic activity.

Limpopo’s richest mineral reserve deposits include the platinum group metals, iron ore, chromium, bituminous and coking coal, diamonds, antimony, phosphate and copper as well as minor reserves of gold, emerald, scheelite, magnetite, vermiculite, silicon, and mica. Commodities such as black granite corundum and feldspar are also found.

“The importance of mining in Limpopo is evident as it represents about 13% of South Africa’s total mining sales of R50-billion [in an industry] employing about 67 000 people. Mining contributes more than one fifth of Limpopo’s economy. It has the largest platinum deposit in South Africa and the Waterberg coalfield is estimated to contain 40% of South Africa’s coal resources,” said Kwata.

He said the country has abundant minerals that lend themselves to small-scale mining, and which cannot be mined economically by big mining companies.

“In Limpopo Province some of the earliest Iron age archaeo-metallugical mining sites have been found. These include iron mining in the famous iron mountains of Tshimbupfe, copper near Messina and Phalaborwa, tin around Rooiberg and gold from Soutpansberg,” said Kwata.

He said the African vision for small-scale mining was to develop a sustainable artisanal and small-scale mining sector.

“Small-scale mining provides between 13 and 20 million jobs worldwide and a further 80 to 100 million people depend on it for their livelihood. In Africa, about 3.7 million are directly engaged in this sub-sector, with 30 million people depending on it, and this number is expected to triple by 2020 [as] more labour-intensive [rather] than large-scale mining [occurs],” said Kwata.

He said there were currently 400 Small-Scale Mining permit holders and 20 new applications in Limpopo. Currently there are 10 small-scale mining projects in Limpopo, which include Thobela Molepo (stone crushing and sand), Thomboni Resources (aggregates), Shai Brothers (sand), Phalaborwa (granite), Babirwa Tshang Tlala (pebbles and sand) and MJ Ss Women’s Civils Enterprises (slate).

Kwata dismissed concerns that small-scale mining was a risky business. “Every business is a risky business.” 

He said the mineral resources department was working with the relevant government departments such as the SAPS, communities, traditional leaders as well as local municipalities to combat illegal mining and ensure compliance. He said the department was promoting regulatory compliance in small-scale mining operations and legalising small-scale operations.

“We also assist in the application process and constantly ensure compliance to regulatory frameworks, especially environmental and health and safety. We also providing technical support to small-scale miners,” said Kwata.

He said small-scale mining has an indirect impact on the economy. “The new business will regain goods and services. The new wages of the employees will be spent in local economic activities. With business comes new demand for housing,” said Kwata.

“[With] increased demand for skills and information there is a stimulation of trade manufacturing and information. So in short, the multiplier effect is the impact that the new business will have on the municipality in which it operates.”

Meanwhile, the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) has injected R200-million to support the Phalabora Mining Company (PMC) in Limpopo and save existing jobs.

PMC started as an open-pit operation in 1956 to a depth of 800m. This was later converted to an underground operation in early 2000s, still tracing the mineralised pipe towards a depth of 1 480m.

The refinery produces continuous cast rod for the domestic market and cathodes for export. Located in Phalaborwa, the PMC produces three primary products: copper, magnetite and vermiculite.

The IDC has approved funding to support PMC for the expansion of a R200-million facility, excluding an equity stake valued at R1.1-billion. The company currently employs 2 300 full-time employees and 2 100 contractors, and is 26% black-owned.

Charles Molele

Charles Molele

Charles Molele is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. Charles joined the paper in 2011. He has covered general news, court and politics for the past 19 years, and also worked as a senior reporter for the Saturday Star, Sunday World, ThisDay, Sunday Times and is former politics editor of the New Age. Charles's other career highlights include covering Kenya's violent general elections (2007/08), Zimbabwe’s sham general elections (2008), Mozambique's food riots (2010) and the historic re-election of US President Barack Obama (2012). Read more from Charles Molele