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15th June 2024

July 2023

Dear comrade, the immediate reaction from those who follow national and world news when they saw images of taxis blown upwards was to think that this was a terror attack. The story then got muddled to include Illegal mining, and only later on did it dawn upon us all that it could be around management and the maintenance of public infrastructure. 

None of these assumptions were off the mark as a few days earlier the media went ballistic and rediscovered the decades old reality that they dubbed illegal mining. At that time, 24 people were reportedly killed due to gas poisoning in the mining operations by miners, labelled illegal miners or zama zamas. In May, 31 people were killed in Welkom due their operations underground. We provide further context of this explosion below.

How the media framed the issue for public discussion has been problematic. They continuously label, in life and in death, the nameless humans as illegal. Absent in all this discourse is their failure to locate these problems to regional and national poverty and inequality, and the failure of the South African authorities to provide the quality policy and law enforcement instruments to ensure mines are properly closed. We do not even begin to discuss the problem of porous borders and much more all under the rubric of illegal miners.

At the time of putting this Bulletin to bed, we learnt of the death of five people in the Riverlea area. The police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Mavela Masondo blamed turf wars amongst different gangs of illegal miners, so-called zama zamas: “Preliminary investigation suggests that two rival groups of the illegal miners were shooting at each [other] in the area, and that led to the deaths of five people.

It is in part the motivation why the Bulletin asked our lead researcher David Van Wyk to explain in ten points the pitfalls of the so-called illegal mining. We hope to ensure that the narrative is more in line with our human rights laws and traditions.

We have your regular features from the ground up, to the planned meeting with the UN Special Rapporteur on Toxins. Raw materials remains a hot topic as it is before the law makers and members of the European Parliament. We believe that this arrangement, if successful, is iniquitous to the Global South and South Africa but I don’t even know if it is on our agenda. The EU, in seeking to pass the Critical Minerals Act, makes clear that raw materials (such as lithium for batteries or silicon for semiconductors) are crucial in a wide range of industrial ecosystems. They are also key to secure Europe’s green and digital transitions. How African countries are responding to this is an evolving programme.

Read and pass on!


Image courtesy of Zapiro, Daily Maverick

The Lillian Ngoyi /Bree Street Disaster – linked to mining?

On 19 July 2023 a major gas explosion occurred in Bree and Lilian Ngoyi Streets, killing one person, and injuring several more. The road was ripped up and minibus taxis and cars were flung into the air.

The immediate media response was that this was caused by Zama Zamas or illegal mining. This following a gas canister leak in Angelo informal settlement a week before in which residents of the informal settlement succumbed to nitrous oxide fumes and many died. While the gas canister leak in Angelo could be attributed to Zama Zama activities, the blast in Bree Street had nothing to do with it.

Egoli Gas, which prior to 1992 was known as Johannesburg Gas, immediately claimed that its ageing infrastructure was not responsible for the blast. It later admitted that there was “one small leak” in its gas supply pipes in the area. That small leak could have led to the accumulation of a gas plume below the road surface which eventually ignited and exploded. Another possible explanation is the overloaded sewage system in the CBD leading to a gas build up of methane in the system which could have ignited and exploded. The fact that it had to do with infrastructure is evidenced by the straight line along which the explosion occurred running parallel to the underground piping.

Why can we discount illegal mining? The Johannesburg CBD is constructed on a granitic dome which, while being rich in Iron, contains little gold. The gold occurs in conglomerate reefs that were deposited on the edge of an ancient inland sea, which stretched all the way from Nigel in the east to Klerksdorp in the west and then down to Matjabeng and the Free State gold fields in the south. These gold reefs occur to the south of Johannesburg, along Main Reef Road, and the M2 Southern bypass which runs from Germiston through to Fordsburg where it joins Main Reef Road. All the mines were located along this reef which can be identified by conglomerate outcrops slanting down at a more or less 45° angle running in a southerly direction. All incline and vertical mine shafts had horizontal tunnels in a southerly direction following the 45° slope referred to above. The city business district is located where it is exactly because there was no mining where it is to the north of the reef.

The Johannesburg Gas Works was established in 1802, and converted coal into gas from the East Rand, specifically from shallow underground coal mines located at Knights, Angelo and East Daggafontein. It was the first and therefore the oldest form of energy in Johannesburg and preceded electricity. Gas consumption reached a peak in the 1940s, after which the massive expansion of electricity supply resulting from the economic growth spurt afforded South Africa by World War 2, as Britain relocated many industries to Canada, Australia, and South Africa so as to assure supply in the face of incessant air raids from Europe. After the war, gas consumption gradually waned and electricity cables overlayed gas pipes as electricity consumption increased. The Johannesburg Gas Works stopped producing gas and bought gas from SASOL in the then eastern Transvaal, now Mpumalanga. If the gas explosion was indeed caused by a gas leak it could have been the result of the old gas infrastructure in the city.

Of great concern to residents should be the rising poverty in the CBD (central business district). Many old buildings have been occupied by the poor leading to overcrowding and structural decay of these buildings and to an overload of the sewage system. Many of these buildings were not designed as residential premises but were office blocks instead, until they became abandoned or hijacked by criminal property syndicates. 

With increased populations residing in the inner city there was an increased use of the infrastructure, water, sanitation, waste and so on. This potentially could lead to a dangerous build-up of methane below the city. High levels of unemployment also lead to asset stripping as the poor resort to stripping metal wherever they may find it and selling it to scrap metal dealers. This is witnessed by vanishing rail lines right inside park station, the plunder of electricity substations, or the stripping of metal rail guards on the highways; even the fences around cemeteries or the copper fittings of water meters in residential streets are not spared. This has led to the inconvenience of electricity outages, water shedding and the breakdown of passenger rail transport. It is only a matter of time before people realise how much metal is available under their feet. Any tampering with the gas pipelines will spell a major disaster.

PetroSA and SASOL have major pipelines running past the old Shaft 17 and Mooifontein tailings next to FNB stadium to the south of the city. These lines run through the heart of the impoverished township of Riverlea. The lines were laid in 1965, which was when Riverlea was established. The lines snake through the area of the old Crown Mine operations and end up at a major depot in Langlaagte, just north of Main Reef Road. Here old abandoned and ownerless mines have been invaded by Zama Zamas, and together with seismic events, scrap metal stripping and Zama Zama activities the gas pipeline has the potential to cause a major disaster.

The Bench Marks Foundation undertook a content analysis study of the City of Johannesburg Disaster Management Plan online dated 2012 and found it to be wholly inadequate to deal with major disasters. The document deals more with the interactions of various government departments during disasters than as a guide to the public in response to such disasters. The following words do not appear in the plan at all: gas, tailings, sinkholes, seismic events, conflict. There is reference to flooding. We also found a complete lack of cautionary signage around dangerous infrastructure such as gas pipelines, water pipelines, tailings dams and old abandoned mine sites. Nor is there any attempt to secure and fence off such infrastructure.

By David van Wyk


Image Source: Daily Maverick

Ten points about “illegal” mining

The public discourse on illegal mining or zama-zamas has gone crazy.  Here I explore ten points to get behind this “confusion” or lack of critical thinking.


“Illegal miners” are not exclusively “foreign”, there are many South Africans involved. 


Those from places like Lesotho and Mozambique are often “recruited” by syndicates, labour brokers and subcontractors. 


Mining companies abandoning operations are often the ones buying the gold from “illegal” miners. It is much cheaper to extract the remaining gold without unionised labour, that is paid pensions, medical aid, UIF etc.  It is also cheaper in that the company does not have electricity, water and other service bills once an operation is taken over by “illegals”.  


The land on which abandoned mines are located has owners, often mining companies or local governments. The onus is on the owner to see that the land is properly managed or rehabilitated, and should he or she fail, legal action should follow. 


Every abandoned mine along Main Reef road is a squatter camp. Often the residents of these camps pay rent, who are they paying rent to?  


The “illegal” miners use mercury to extract the gold from the ore; who supplies the Mercury? Mercury is a prescribed highly toxic substance, you cannot just buy it over the counter. However, chemists can obtain it. We were told that a chemist in a township known to us is allegedly supplying “illegal” miners on the East Rand with mercury. Mercury is also illegally obtained from government hospitals according to our informants. 


The gold sticks to mercury separating it from the ore waste. To separate the gold from the mercury a blow torch with gas from a cylinder is used, who supplies the cylinders and the gas? I would suggest scrap metal dealers, who are also often buyers of the gold produced. The “illegal” miners in Boksburg got the wrong cylinders: they thought that they had propane or butane gas cylinders with which blowtorches are operated, instead they had nitrous oxide or laughing gas. Nitrous oxide is used by dentists as an anaesthetic… Nitrous oxide would be available to chemists, dentists and the medical fraternity. So put two and two together, and you might be able to determine the supply chain. From the photos I have seen, the cylinders were in pretty bad shape, suggesting to me that they were probably from scrap metal dealers. 


Another question: where do the guns come from? They come from all over. The police, burglaries, the army and, more importantly, private security companies. We strongly suspect that private security companies are part of the syndicates and value chains around illegal gold. Are the guns supplied in return for gold?


Many, if not most, “illegal” miners are former migrant workers and one time union members of NUM, NUMSA or AMCU. Many, if not most, did not get their pensions, UIF or other funds due to them on retirement or retrenchment. While working on the mines, they never received any portable skills training that would allow for them to work outside of the mines. They only know how to mine. That is how they put food on the table.

It is a disgrace that the pension and other fund managers make it near impossible for workers to access the monies due to them. This is because these fund managers make a killing from the interest accrued from these unclaimed funds. 


Minerals are not renewable, therefore mining is not sustainable. It is no longer possible, in many gold and platinum mines, for large scale industrial mining to continue, so large mining companies, the majors, are leaving the country, abandoning mines. 

As a country, we should have started planning for a post mining economy twenty years ago already, and for a just transition to small and medium scale mining to retain jobs and to keep mining towns alive. We should also have planned to repurpose mines and mining towns. Possibly to turn them into hubs for supplying alternative energy, such as solar, geothermal or gravitational energy. Most mines had housing stock, clinics or hospitals, training centres and workshops, all of which could have been used to address key health, education and training, and housing challenges facing the country. Instead, towns like the Durban Roodepoort Deep Village, Kleinzee, Sallies, Stilfontein, etc. have all been allowed to go to ruin and to turn into havens of destitution and crime.

In South Africa, you may own gold in the form of jewellery or coins, but not in unprocessed form unless you have a mining licence.

By David van Wyk

Image Source: EyeWitness News

Miners in Welkom – Photo by David van Wyk 

Virginia Vent Shaft Mining Disaster
Makhotla Sefuli

At least 31 illegal miners died in a gas explosion in a shuttered gold mine in Welkom, Free State, in June 2023. The vent shaft where the disaster occurred has been abandoned since the 1990s, according to reports. It used to be operated by Harmony Gold Mine. The locals call it the V5 shaft, and another one is a ventilation shaft similar to this one on a privately owned farm between Bronville and Virginia. These two ventilation shafts are used by artisanal miners to gain access to the underground.

Artisanal miners can be divided into three groups, those coming from Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Virginia is dominated mainly by Lesotho nationals who operate as different groups. One of these groups is led by Moshesha, who is responsible for recruiting young men from Lesotho under the guise of finding them formal employment in the mining industry. These young men come to the Free State under the false impression that they are coming to work in the legitimate mines in South Africa. Upon arrival, their passports are confiscated and they are conscripted to work in the informal mine practice against their will. 

The second group is led by Khaka, and is based in Bronville and Hani Park in Welkom. He also owns several businesses around the area. Like his counterpart in Virginia, he too confiscates passports and forces young men to go underground against their will.

Another common factor between these two men is that they own a herd of livestock – they both have kraals next to the mine tailings. They employ young men from Lesotho to work as their shepherds. Their livestock is always grazing in the area around the mine tailings and ventilation shafts where they normally lower people to the underground. The shepherds double-up their mandate, serving as spies for anything suspicious or movement around the mine tailings or the ventilation shaft, especially the police or private security vehicles. In most instances, the security guards are in cahoots with these people, although not all of the security guards.

31 miners

On the morning of June 24, 2023, I was with journalists when we met a group of young men who work as artisanal miners in Bronville. I engaged them to assist us and thereafter we went to the site where the disaster took place: first they took us to the ventilation shaft that is on a privately owned farm. After a few minutes we had to  vacate that area because they feared that the farmer may call the police. From there, we headed to the ventilation shaft where the incident took place. 

Upon arrival we had to get permission from the chief of the site after paying a certain amount of money. The chief is anyone who lives near the ventilation shaft to ensure that it is not hijacked by any rival gang, always armed with assault rifles of no particular origin.

At the ventilation shaft, we found it still leaking methane gas. It was visible – even to the naked eye – with a very strong smell that even got one of the journalists dizzy for the later part of the tour.

They told us that on the 18th May 2023 a “shepherd” witnessed a group of white people driving in private security vehicles approaching the ventilation shaft site. They took out canisters with the words gas written on it, and threw them down the shaft. He even took a video of the whole incident with his cell phone (this is anecdotal but I’m still to obtain the video from one of them). It should also be noted that any piece of information from these guys comes with a price. I had to buy them cigarettes and alcohol to get them to speak to me in the local language to prevent the journalists from hearing all the things we were discussing.

In the case of the 31 miners who died in the explosion, they were all recruited from the same village in Maseru (Lesotho). They were all promised formal employment in the mining industry in South Africa under false pretences. Some of them are as young as sixteen years, and their families are demanding answers from Moshesha since he is the one who brought them to South Africa.

Out of 31 miners who perished, only two were retrieved from the underground. Apparently their families are living in Virginia. I am still waiting for one of the guys to furnish me with their names and the whereabouts of their families in Virginia. They did not tell me exactly how they were retrieved from the shaft but what they told me is that it takes twenty men and a rope of 3 kms length tied to a towbar of a double cab bakkie to haul one person from the underground.

One of the men is an artisanal miner aged 38, who began working from the age of 21. At first he was smuggled by an onsetter in an officially functioning mine. An onsetter is defined as a person who is stationed in a cabin and all controls are within reach for the loading and unloading of the cages, shaft signalling, and other car control equipment at the shaft bottom. After the closure of many shafts from the fully functioning mines, they started to focus on ventilation shafts and closed derelict mine shafts.

Lucrative business

According to these men, the business is lucrative and that is the reason they will always go underground despite all the risks. One man can make R10,000 in three days but 30% goes to “the person who owns you”. That is the person who brought you from the villages and introduced you to the industry.

Most of these men are married with families and they are able to support their families with the money they make from the proceeds of artisanal mining.

What happened in Virginia is only a tip of an iceberg according to them, as many bodies are still unaccounted for. Many violent fights break out underground between rival gangs and that results in many deaths that go unreported. According to them, many bodies are either retrieved and dumped in the bushes or left to decompose underground.

Since these people belong to an association, it is their wish to be formalised as an industry to work freely and be granted permission through permits by the government.

In one of my follow up discussions with one of them, he told me that he took a group of journalists from Aljazeera to the site of the incident and they were confronted by the police and the private security. When they arrived, they found the methane gas no longer coming from the shaft, the following day when they visited the site they found the methane again coming from the shaft. The suspicion is that the methane was deliberately put out because on the said day of the 27th June, it is the day Minister Gwede Mantashe visited the site with his entourage. Miraculously the methane was back on the following day. When I left the place where people come to earn a living and sometimes die, it was clear to me that they fought for every shaft. Sometimes, the security guards collaborate with illegal miners and that has given an element of mistrust among security personnel and even in the other “camps”. Often these conflicts result in loss of lives.


Image Source: groundUP

Will there be an African fightback?

I start this article with a bit of a recap, as we have done many articles before in earlier editions.

Let us briefly consider our national challenges and put it down that the crude adherence to the EU Agenda on Raw Material imperatives or from similar initiatives by the USA and other powerful nations would not benefit Africans and the Global South. The motivation in most of these is around the People’s Republic of China.

On 16 March 2023, the European Commission released its proposals for what it calls Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA). Its stated aims are to strengthen EU capacity to extract, process and recycle ‘strategic raw materials’, as well as to diversify its sources of imports from non-EU countries. That is WE, South Africans, Africa and the others who were once considered third world.

Some of the materials considered strategic are the following:

(a) Bismuth (b) Boron – metallurgy grade (c) Cobalt  (d) Copper (e) Gallium (f) Germanium  (g) Lithium – battery grade (h) Magnesium metal (i) Manganese – battery grade (j) Natural Graphite – battery grade (k) Nickel – battery grade (l) Platinum Group Metals (m) Rare Earth Elements for magnets (Nd, Pr, Tb, Dy, Gd, Sm, and Ce) (n) Silicon metal (o) Titanium metal (p) Tungsten 

In a graphic study, Earthworks uses a “traffic light” to indicate the potential or challenges to offset demand for each metals:

Image courtesy of Zapiro, Mail and Guardian 2022

For importance to clean energy, red represents metals that are of high importance (used in multiple technologies and therefore harder to replace), orange represents medium importance (used in the dominant sub-technology) and yellow is for the least importance (used in less dominant sub-technology). For materials efficiency or substitution, red represents the metals most difficult to reduce or substitute (either metals in the technology or between sub-technologies), orange can be substituted but with some loss of performance and yellow are the most suitable for efficiency or substitution. Lastly, recyclability is rated based on current rates of recycling, from red (not currently recycled), orange (some recycling) and yellow (currently recycled).

For many reasons, the People’s Republic of China, seen as the villain in the play usurping and monopolising the raw materials needed for the Green New Deals that must dawn. In earlier editions, we spelt out what the objectives of the EU’s Green Materials Initiatives are, and its targets, and asserted the view that African, Asian, Latin American and Caribbean countries – the Global South – has a right to organise, fight back and ensure that the wholesale looting or selling off of our strategic materials is not in our national interest.

As expected, the response from powerful countries in Europe is to push to get their way. Take the case of Indonesia: when it placed a ban on the exportation of strategic minerals (in this case nickel) so that it could make electric vehicles, the EU went forum shopping and eventually found joy at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The WTO ruled against the country and forced it to sell nickel on the open market as it was seen to be against the rules of free trade. 

Our main concern is that we are excluded from the discussion as AFRICANS, and our leaders and the public and private media do not think that issues of national sovereignty and inclusive and accountable governance are important enough to discuss. To conclude this backstory, we must bear in mind that with our legacies of apartheid, mal governance and the deep levels of poverty and inequality, we have a right to use (not pillage by local elites) our resources to meet the needs of our people. Finally, we asked what happened to all those promises made in the early years about beneficiation of our raw materials, which it was said would create employment?

In this article, I want to look at one of our persistent challenges since becoming a democracy in 1994 and it is a four letter word: J-O-B-S. The longer version is about our government creating the enabling environment for livelihoods to flourish, with cooperatives and other initiatives from below that are not tied to the capitalist markets. It must be borne in mind that it is not an endorsement for business as usual, where the devastating impacts of mining on communities, the environment and water and related resources are negatively impacted upon. It is a call to “our” governments to work with civil society for a justice transition that affirms human rights, democracy and meets the basic needs of South Africans. This just transition must at all times factor in the climate catastrophe that has to date destroyed livelihoods, lives and ecosystems needed for our continued survival as a species.

Policy making is a growth industry, but not sufficiently to meet the needs of our country. Many trade unionists over the past decade have spoken of the jobless bloodbath, the excessive profits from the CEOs and shareholders, and the failure of corporations to invest in the country. The failure to create quality jobs that bring with it dignity and self-respect as well as incomes for workers and those they care for. Figures about how many jobs will be created is a puzzle.

Let me try to unravel this puzzle.

In A BENEFICIATION STRATEGY FOR THE MINERALS INDUSTRY OF SOUTH AFRICA June 2011, beneficiation is defined as entailing the transformation of a mineral (or a combination of minerals) to a higher value product, which can either be consumed locally or exported. The term is used interchangeably with “value-addition”. So simply put, additional value must be added to the raw materials South Africa produces.

This strategy of beneficiation was integral to the “developmental economic policy known as “The New Growth Path” (NGP), which “seeks to place the national economy on a production-led growth trajectory in order to tackle the country’s developmental challenges of unemployment, inequality and poverty.” This NGP favoured inclusive growth which will “systematically encourage(ing) more labour absorptive economic activities” resulting in the creation of“5 million new jobs by 2020.” The priority sectors for such growth was in “infrastructure and rebuilding the productive sectors of the Economy”. Beneficiation could be the jewel in the crown of the NGP as it was seen as “the priority growth nodes for job creation”.

The Beneficiation Strategy was good for the whole economy as it was aligned to the national industrialisation programme, which it was projected would enhance “the quantity and quality of exports, promote creation of decent employment and diversification of the economy, including promotion of the green economy”. There you have it in bold.

Furthermore, the document deals with the legal and regulatory frameworks that enable such minerals beneficiation, the type of minerals (vanadium, iron, titanium, uranium, thorium and so) and the need to address import-parity pricing for certain minerals like iron, ore, steel “for downstream users to support the final fabrication process”.

It is clear that the more robust thrust and the demands for minerals we see around the NEW Green Deals were not factored in fully, but the principled commitment (on paper) to create jobs using materials was ascertained.


I now turn to the National Development Plan, 2030, which also made many claims to increase monthly income, reduce inequality and so on. They promised to “increase employment and broaden opportunities through education, vocational training and work experience, public employment programmes, health and nutrition, public transport and access to information.” 

They laid out a plan to “Expand public employment programmes to 1 million participants by 2015 and 2 million by 2020. As the number of formal- and informal-sector jobs expands, public work programmes can be scaled down. Strengthen primary health-care services and broaden district-based health programmes, such as the community health worker and midwife programmes, and health education”.  Whether these were part of the 5 million or not, is not particularly important here but they saw that new jobs will be created by “domestic-orientated businesses, and in growing small- and medium-sized firms.”

The Plan states boldly that “small and expanding firms will become more prominent, and generate the majority of new jobs created. They will also contribute to changing apartheid legacy patterns of business ownership.” And for this, we might add, they need the right for the government and all governments to have the POLICY SPACE to support indigenous business and poor communities. Agriculture, they say, will have the potential to create close to 1 million new jobs by 2030. This is vital, as it is the “primary economic activity in rural areas.”

Of beneficiation the country must be strategic and target what it wants to do. This is what they wrote: ”Priority areas should include those where suitable capacity already exists, or where beneficiation is likely to lead to downstream manufacturing. Beneficiating all of the country’s minerals is neither feasible nor is it essential for developing a larger manufacturing sector”.  Clearly, it supports the revitalisation of the manufacturing sector.

Of the mining and extractivist sector, the NDA amongst other things confirms that investments will be needed and climate change will have to be factored in: “Given the energy-intensive nature of mining and mineral beneficiation, South Africa will also need to invest heavily in helping the industry to reduce its carbon footprint. Similarly, the mining sector needs to use water more efficiently. Concerns about the impact of a resource curse should not be confused with an essential commitment to expanding minerals production and exports. The resource curse will be addressed partly through stimulating forward and backward linkages to expand industrial and services capabilities.”

In this conclusion section, I will look at how other countries are responding to the current rush for raw materials. I am particularly interested to see if Africans are keen to respect the rights of its people in terms of how these minerals are sourced and when sourced to use them for the development of society as a whole. 

It would appear that many African countries are realising the value of their materials, especially those considered strategic.

Reuters reports that Zimbabwe banned lithium exports in December 2022, was working towards producing battery-grade lithium locally and could impose a tax on exports of lithium concentrate in future. In addition, they shared the news that  Namibia, touted to be in one of the Raw Materials Clubs with the EU, has banned the export of unprocessed lithium and other critical minerals. The report indicated that, in addition to lithium, the country has other rare earth minerals such as “dysprosium and terbium needed for permanent magnets in the batteries of electric cars and wind turbines.” The country, they added, is a top global player in the production of uranium and gem-quality diamonds.

In a trip to Uganda, the Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi, already in agreement on other social issues, said that the West did not want “to see developing countries adding value to their resources or to process their raw materials”. He added that, whilst the West has attempted to damage their economy, Iran “has managed to advance in several aspects. He gave the example of medicines and pharmaceuticals, where he said they produce 95% of the drugs they need.

Thus the raw materials act and its impacts are fundamentally political and increasingly involving geopolitical actors and wider issues of whether there is need for other countries beyond the dollar and or the Euro.

When asked about the demands for raw materials and Africa’s response, Antonio M.A. Pedro (Sub-regional Office for Central Africa, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa) noted that “Africa is a net importer of essential pharmaceutical, agriculture, food, and manufactured goods, the consequences of which COVID-19 trade disruption made abundantly clear. In view of this, governments are now refocusing from exporting raw materials to producing and consuming more locally.” Pedro was hopeful that with the accession to the African Continental Free Trade Area on January 1, 2021, barriers will be opened and the market will be bigger for those with an “inward-looking development agenda.” 

Many countries are responding by blocking the export of these critical raw materials, including Asian and African countries. Of Latin America, Vijay Prasad in his Washington Bullets (2020) reminds us that when Evo Morals, leader of Bolivia, spoke at the United Nations in 2019, he said that his country Bolivia has:

“Since 2006 – cut it poverty from 38.2 per cent to 15.2 per cent, increased its life expectancy rate by nine years, is now 100 percent literate, has developed a Universal Health Care system, ensured that over a million women received land tenure, and have a parliament where more than 50 per cent of the elected officials are women. How did Bolivia do this? ‘We nationalised our natural resources,’ Morales said, ‘and our strategic companies. We have taken control of our destiny.’ These resources – which include fossil fuels but also key strategic metals such as Indium and Lithium – have been desired by transnational firms for decades. During his 13 years as president, Morales was able to tackle hundreds of years of entrenched inequality. Morales won his first election to the presidency when the ‘pink tide’ had been established from Venezuela to Argentina. When commodity prices fell, many of these left-leaning governments lost power, but Morales remained popular and won election after election on a firm mandate of expanding Bolivian democracy.But he faced opposition from Bolivia’s oligarchy and from the US, which had long wanted Morales removed from office.”

We do not endorse positions from above, but call on popular organisations to put these issues on the agenda and find solutions that will lift our people out of poverty. What is clear is that Africa needs to get its act together and very fast. The words of the intellectual scholar Frédéric Bastiat, in 1850, must not become true: “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorises it and a moral code that glorifies it.”

This is why we speak and organise. Statistics South Africa shows that employment has barely increased from 2012 up to where we are now in 2023. We have to factor in the devastation of the Covid pandemic in terms of lives and livelihoods overladen by climate catastrophe.

The official figures on employment for the first quarter of this year reveals that formal employment is down to 9,97 million individuals. This is dire as it means that a small pool of formal and millions in the informal sector have to ensure that the society functions optimally for all its people. But with these figures it is unsustainable.If we look at the unemployment rate, the World Bank estimated it to be 42% during 2010 and has insignificantly decreased in 2020 to about 40%. It is obvious that quality jobs both in the formal and informal sectors must be created or supported to fulfil the dire needs of South Africans as discussed above.

  1. To reiterate the demands we make is to our leaders, whom we believe must be bolder in speaking out, thus: 
  2. This raw materials drive is not just to get energy self-reliance for some parts of our world, who are already over-consuming their share of the world’s energy resources. It is also about Energy Justice for those who have the materials underneath their part of our one earth.
  3. We have the right to determine our own destinies, that is fight to maintain our national sovereignty, as it pertains to trade and other policies.
  4. The national economy and its international strategy must be geared towards the full development of the potential of all its citizens and not the tiny minority at the top. To rethink how this must be done, it is best to go back to the people.
  5. Development inclusive of energy justice must put people and the environment and animal life as priorities for sustainable development. In this regard, the sub-region and the continent of Africa has long suffered and were marginalised by the transatlantic slavery, and colonialism which divided Africa amongst themselves as well as the continued unfair terms of trade that still prevail. Two to fifteen million Africans were lost to slavery between the 14th and 19th centuries, which remains an unhealed scar on the psyche and well being of Africans. Those countries denuded of their peoples have a legitimate claim in the holistic development of Africa and its peoples. These demands that we raise our voice for redress as a continent. 
  6. Our governments must protect, and promote the right of its citizens to organise themselves in keeping the government to account. This means the right to form and join unions, civic associations, and other platforms of popular power will not be opposed in words, deeds (fiscal) by our own national leaders. In seeking to support our governments to be boulder in speaking up for the people, we do not excuse those who violate our founding principles of liberation, the constitution and the universal principles of liberty and justice.

By Hassen Lorgat


Photos by Frieda Subklew-Sehume

Sisters doing it for themselves
Olebogang Motene and Frieda Subklew-Sehume

Under the heading “Together we can”, we ventured into a discovery and tested our gender concepts, understandings, values and beliefs. Scheduled for the end of July, the gathering involved over 60 community monitors and facilitators from South Africa and 5 from the continent. It was the first ever workshop of the Bench Marks Foundation focusing specifically on Gender. Organisers told the Bulletin that  “We are putting on our gender lenses to take on a different perspective on our work in the mining and extractivism fields, especially regarding the impact on women from mining affected communities. We hope that we will plant the seeds to change the hearts and the mindsets.” 

The workshop objectives outlined included the following:

  • strengthening our gender competencies through a deeper understanding of gender concepts reflecting on our work in communities;
  • our shortcomings and what we want to do differently going forward strengthening the cooperation in the Community Monitoring School programme;
  • reigniting the African connection between different Monitoring Schools of the Tunatazama Network; and
  • creating brief communication products from our reflections and learnings that can strengthen gender sensitivity and empowerment in our work in mining affected communities.

The workshop used many creative tools to get participants to delve deep into themselves. One particular approach helped participants to reflect on how being born male or female has shaped their lives. Organisers explained: “We also looked at how work is split between men and women and which values are attached to different types of work. Furthermore, we explored gender via the symbol of the three-legged pot representing culture, religion and our constitution. And proverbs helped us engage with our cultural values.”

Participants engaged with the question of power and interrogated what it means to be a leader and what the leadership of women or what would feminist leadership could look like?

No workshop in the world is complete without delving into the scourge of violence of men / or gender based violence. What action plans and strategies are out there and how do those in need access them? Are they effective? How can building the power of women’s organisations assist in fighting violence against women and improving the role of women in society?

“We were creative, singing, making bracelets and having a cross-dressing evening.”

Forward to breaking the gender ceiling at Bench Marks 😊 Stronger together!

Image Source: Ippmedia

From Snake Park to Morogoro
Thokozile Mntambo

I have spent the most inspiring three days at Morogoro village in Tanzania, together with Eric Mokuoa from the Benchmarks Foundation. Upon our arrival, we met with Emmanuel Nguri from the organisation Norwegian Church Aid (NCA Tanzania), who was to be our driver for the three days. He was very kind and helpful and made our trip comfortable and informative.

On the next day, we woke up early in the morning from Dar es Salaam to travel to Morogo village to meet with the villagers. Our trip to Morogoro from Dar es Salaam took 5 hours and 30 minutes. At Morena Hotel Morogoro, we met with Pius and Matthews who were assigned as our programme directors for our tour.

In Morogoro, we began a journey that will forever be life-changing for me, a resident of Soweto Snake Park. 

I was first struck by the beauty and novelty of Uluguru Nature Forest Reserve, which nestles in the village of Morogoro. It felt like I was walking in the gardens of Eden because everywhere we passed people planted vegetables and fruits, our driver even stopped and bought us coconuts that we drank fresh from the tree. They tasted natural and delicious. This was new to me as a person who grew up in Soweto Snake Park which is only surrounded by a toxic mine dump and today we suffer the consequences of the 1886 gold mine rush. The villagers welcomed us warmly, singing beautifully in Swahili. “Ndini mbari mbari! Uphendo, Hakhi, Namari!!,“ this is how each person greeted us during the introductions and it means love, peace, and unity. We felt at home. 

Our new friends Pius and Matthews introduced us to the organisation and explained to them about our purpose to visit their village. We learnt how the organisation was formed. The Pilots of Agriculture Innovation is a programme of the Norwegian Church of Tanzania that aims to address the organisation’s joint efforts on resource mobilisation. They empower community members to gain greater access and control over material resources and think critically about how power in society works where there is discrimination and unequal distribution of all resources.

INTER-religious village community banks (IR VICOBA) have proved to be a great success in raising income and improving the lives and welfare of its members in various districs int he country. (IPPMedia)

This resulted in the community starting “VICOBA” group, which is a village community bank. The name of the organisation is Kirvica and Mirvica. Jema Mziwanda, a 49-year-old farmer, was the chairperson of the organisation in 2016 when Norwegian Church of Tanzania came into their village. NCA (Tanzania) trained them and assisted the community to form the organisation as well as teaching them how to save money and buy shares from the organisation. It looks like the organisation is having an impact.

“I am a single parent and unemployed. When I joined the organisation, I could not even pay my daughter’s university fees. I applied for a loan. I was able to buy shares in the organisation and pay school fees. I also started poultry farming with the loan money and I was able to pay back the loan within three years,” said Georgina Mwagala, a 46-year-old community member.

I found myself encouraged by Mirvica and Kirvica networks that they could save money and use the funds to lend to members of the organisation. These members would have to pay back the loans with a small interest.

What I also learnt was that community members can also get empowered to start their businesses instead of them depending on the organisation.

All of this was made possible through agriculture. Kirvica and Mirvica have land where they started food gardens and they sell vegetables and fruits and save the money they get from the profits. This kind of development is economic empowerment through saving and an income generation activity. It was really new to me.

My visit to Morogoro village transformed my ideas about agriculture and it enabled me to think big about economic empowerment for my community back home.

Now that I am back at home, my head is filled with ideas and self-help strategies that will be of benefit to my community of Snake Park, where we started a phytoremediation project. As explained in another edition, this project aims to remove toxins from the mine tailings soil.

The following is what I have taken from the Kivirca and Mirvica network:

  • Saving money in community banks (Vircoba groups) is what we call stokvels but it is rarely used in community organisations. As a cooperative, we can start saving money and also encourage members to save to add something to the group fund.
  • Income generation activity – taking the saved money to borrow from members as loans and they can pay it back with interest.
  • Agripreneurship – an entrepreneur whose business is agriculture, as we are advocating for our community as activists, we can also create opportunities for activists through phytoremediation.
  • Access to finance resources – members of the organisation can be able to borrow money from the cooperative.
  • Access to independent income – members of the organisation can also own their own business.
  • Owning assets, controlling assets – members of the organisation can also buy shares from the cooperative.
  • Reduced vulnerability at the time of financial crisis – everyone is independent and can participate in decision making.

The unfolding reality as Sibanye Stillwater is held to account

Eric Mokuoa

Sibanye Stillwater is a multinational company, in many minerals, in many countries and in five continents of the world. Their website lists these as:

The company has taken over the Majority of Lonmin assets in South Africa after Lonmin’s fall from grace. Lonmin received bad media coverage after a labour dispute which turned into a tragedy on 16 August that left 34 miners dead in conflicts with the police. Another 10 workers died the day before in what appears to have been clashes between the two rival worker formations, one being the NUM.

Sibanye Stillwater is a member of the International Council of Mining and Minerals (ICMM), which professes to uphold a high standard on tailing maintenance. The Global Industry Standard on tailing management, which they co-developed with others, sets a standard and a commitment they ask their members to adhere to. However, the experience presents challenges as many of the companies only pay lip service to this. 

Recently, the Wonderkop community located near Rustenburg within Marikana operations complained of a tailing facility which the community believes poses risk to their lives and livelihood. The community told us that the tailing dam – known as TD 6 – was constructed at least 1.28 km from their village. This construction was accomplished without any consultation nor participation of the community. 

Brown Matloko, a community activist, said the tailing dam “is a time bomb, which has the potential to be like the Jaggerfontein disaster. It is for this reason that the community wrote a petition to the Bench Marks Foundation, and its allies. The petition was clear that the community on their own have struggled to get the attention of Sibanye Stillwater, about the environmental hazards, and the consequences of excluding the community in mitigating the risks”.

The community petition prompted the Bench Marks Foundation’s intervention in a standing complaint of the community against the Company.  This resulted in a meeting with the Bench Marks Foundation, Mining Watch Canada and Earthworks with the community. The company was invited to hear the concerns of the community. In that meeting, the community decried the externalisation of costs and hazards by the company to the community.

This includes the questionable sewer connection that flows into the community. They have additionally raised the health issues and risks associated with the tailing facility. The tailing facility has been poorly maintained. Contrary to the company’s words, there has been a huge spillage into the river, polluting a large tract of land and the nearby stream. The tailing infrastructure has leaking pipes which feed into the stream discharging toxic tailing fluids.

The laboratory test results of the residue of the spillage show that the spillage contained high concentration of potentially harmful metals.

The meeting was heated and the community expressed their frustration with the company accusing it of being aloof as they have refused to consult and work with the community.

Policy Gaps?

This practice stands in stark contrast to the information shared earlier this year in the Sibanye-Stillwater Dialogue with NGOs. In this meeting, the company curated a semblance of a dialogue where they dominated with their allies and reported a clean bill of health. Their message in general was that they have done well with their Social and Labour Plan, avoiding real criticism from civil society.

Just the other day, we learnt from the community leaders that a six year old boy from the Wonderkop community has drowned in one of the tailings dams close to the shaft. A day before that, the community briefed Sibanye about the dangers of such unprotected tailings facilities.

Sibanye has sold a story of change to the society, with carefully curated messages, but this is not how real change happens. The community demands that for real transparency and accountability to thrive, it must start with dealing directly with the mining affected community and those they call on to support the community.

Image Source: www.sanews.gov.za

GUEST FEATURE: Was it a charade?
Mariette Liefferink reports on the recently held Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act Review Summit

Protests outside the venue by Macua-Wamua and the non invitation to many, reflected what CEO of the FEDERATION FOR A SUSTAINABLE ENVIRONMENT labeled as a disappointment. Civil society organisations had hoped for “meaningful engagement in decisions that affect our people, in particular the mining affected communities, and our environment” but this was not realised. “Meaningful consultation is defined as a process of mutual dialogue and decision-making whereby the State (and in casu the DMRE) – in terms of South Africa’s participatory democracy – has an obligation to consult and listen to stakeholder perspectives, and to integrate those perspectives into their decisions” Liefferink stated in an article written for the Bulletin.(15 July 2023.) Her article covers the following themes:

  1. First issue of concern: ecological sustainability
  2. Second issue of concern: status of the draft National Mine Closure Strategy and address of loopholes
  3. Third issue of concern: status of the DMRE’s compliance with the recommendations of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Minerals and Energy1
  4. Fourth issue of concern: the status of the DMRE’s compliance with the directives of the South African Human Rights Commission

The Review Summit was addressed by many in particular Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Mr Gwede Matashe; Mr Matthews Wolmarans of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Minerals and Energy; Mr Jacob Mbele, the Director General of the DMRE.

Liefferink writes that:

The Summit and the breakaway sessions afforded limited opportunities for stakeholders to participate and comment. During the morning session there were no opportunities afforded for discussion. It was hoped that the breakaway sessions would afford more opportunities for stakeholders to comment. The FSE attended the breakaway session titled “Transformation”, which was chaired by the erudite Adv. Tembeka Ngcukaitobi. While Adv. Ngcukaitobi presented his scholarly views on transformation, there was limited opportunity for his listeners to raise their issues of concern. During the feedback from the breakaway sessions Adv. Nguckaitobi summarised his views with brief reference to the issues raised by the FSE.

In the light of the above-mentioned, permit us please to now submit our comments, which we briefly raised during the breakaway session, and to kindly request confirmation of receipt of and responses to our comments.


While we recognise the obligation placed upon the Honourable Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy to promote socio-economic development of South Africa’s mineral resources, the Minister is specially tasked to also ensure the sustainable development of these resources within a framework of national environmental policy, norms and standards. The MPRDA Review Summit focused only on the socio-economic development of South Africa’s mineral resources with limited or no reference to the ecological sustainability of development of its mineral resources.

While the FSE concurs that in a developing country there shall have to be developments, but that development shall have to be in closest possible harmony with the environment, as otherwise there would be development but no environment, which would result in total devastation, though, however, may not be felt in present but at some future point of time, but then it would be too late in the day, however, to control and improve the environment.

In Fuel Retailers Association of Southern Africa v Director-General: Environmental Management, Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Environment, Mpumalanga Province, and others (2007) (6) SA 4 (CC) the findings in judgement have relevance to the matter under consideration, namely that “sustainable development… envisages that decision-makers guided by the concept of sustainable development will ensure that socio-economic developments remain firmly attached to their ecological roots and that these roots are protected and nurtured so that they may support future socio-economic developments”. You may continue reading this article in the FSE website.


A meeting place to learn about organisations, networks,
movements and people resisting injustices and whom we work with.

Special Rapporteur Dr. Marcos A. Orellana

The UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights will meet with civil society at the Legal Resources Centre’s Offices on 1 August 2023. Many groups have prepared reports on the impacts of mining on the health and wellbeing of the community and other life. And on the 2nd August, we will join the FSE organised TOXIC TOUR with the UN Commissioner. We will tour the West Rand Goldfields and hopefully engage with mining affected communities.

But you may ask who is the Special Rapporteur and what is the mandate?

The current mandate holder is one Dr. Marcos A. Orellana who was appointed Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights in August 2020. He is an expert in international law and the law on human rights and the environment. His practice as legal advisor has included work with United Nations agencies, governments and non-governmental organisations.

The mandate


Country visits allow the Special Rapporteur to examine in situ questions relating to the mandate, and help him identify gaps and shortcomings, as well as good practices, in relation to which the Special Rapporteur would seek to make constructive and concrete recommendations.

The general objectives of such country visits are:

  • to examine and report on the status of a wide range of issues related to toxics and human rights as well as the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes in the country, with particular attention to vulnerable categories;
  • to engage in dialogue with all levels of Government, United Nations and intergovernmental agencies and civil society in their efforts to protect human rights;
  • to identify gaps and shortcomings, as well as practical solutions and best practices in the realisation of rights relevant to the mandate;
  • to issue recommendations addressed to governments, businesses and relevant stakeholders, and to follow up on relevant concluding observations made by treaty bodies and other international bodies and assess their impacts on policies adopted by the countries concerned.

Country visits involve extensive study of topics relevant to the mandate, including a wide range of issues related to toxics and human rights and the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, as well as meetings and interviews with civil society organisations, experts and affected individuals before a visit. Country visits include meetings between the Special Rapporteur and government officials, members of the legislature and judiciary, state institutions, civil society organisations, academics, businesses, and individuals.

The SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR asks many questions… For more information, visit: https://www.ohchr.org/en/special-procedures/sr-toxics-and-human-rights/about-toxics-and-human-rights


🎬 WATCH: Corporate Corruption, Illicit Financial Flows and Inequality in South Africa
Corporate Corruption manifests in various forms, including bribery, fraud, and corporate tax evasion known as illicit financial flows. In the video below, we explore the nature and consequences of corporate corruption and illicit financial flows in SA. The video is co-produced by AIDC and Workers World Media Productions WWMP.

📖 A Just(ice) Transition is a Post-Extractive Transition  

While the global majority disproportionately suffer the impacts of the climate crisis and the extractivist model, the Global North’s legacy of colonialism, the excess of the world’s wealthiest, and the power of large corporations are responsible for these interrelated crises.

The climate change mitigation commitments thus far made by countries in the Global North are wholly insufficient; not only in terms of emissions reductions, but in their failure to address the root causes of the crisis – systemic and intersecting inequalities and injustices. This failure to take inequality and injustice seriously can be seen in even the most ambitious models of climate mitigation.

This report by War on Want and London Mining Network sets out to explore the social and ecological implications of those models with a focus on metal mining,

📖 Unearthing justice: How to protect your community from the mining industry AFRICA EDITION, by Joan Kuyek, Yao Graham

Originally published in 2019, this new edition has an Introduction by Yao Graham, TWN-Africa. The author, Joan Kuyek, is a community-focused mining analyst and organizer living in Ottawa. She was the founding National Co-ordinator of MiningWatch Canada from 1999–2009 and continues to do work for MiningWatch and for a number of communities affected by mining.

The mining industry continues to be at the forefront of colonial dispossession around the world. It controls information about its intrinsic costs and benefits, propagates myths about its contribution to the economy, shapes government policy and regulation, and deals ruthlessly with its opponents.

Brimming with case studies, anecdotes, resources, and illustrations, Unearthing Justice exposes the mining process and its externalised impacts on the environment, Indigenous Peoples, communities, workers, and governments. But, most importantly, the book shows how people are fighting back. Whether it is to stop a mine before it starts, to get an abandoned mine cleaned up, to change laws and policy, or to mount a campaign to influence investors, Unearthing Justice is an essential handbook for anyone trying to protect the places and people they love.

Moses Cloete serves as the editor at large of this edition. Unless otherwise indicated the writing and presentation of the Bulletin is by Hassen Lorgat. Marta Garrich helped with additional editing and layout of the newsletter. Simo Gumede is responsible for the members and partners database management. Image in the header: distribution of derelict and ownerless mines and river ecosystem status in South Africa (from AGSA Follow up Performance Audit at the DMRE, 2021).

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