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Triple Bottom Tuesday>>> Illegal Sand Mining in South Africa


Picture Credit: Coastal Care website


Sand, a commodity that always appears to be available in infinite quantities, yet in truth, usable sand is limited than one might think. It is the second most sort after and exploited natural resource in the world, just after water. It is essential for everything, from concrete to glass.


With sand being such a heavily used commodity, it isn’t a surprise that attempts would be made in order to mine it illegally. In early February 2022, South African sand mining association ASPASA, called for less mining, claiming that illegal sand mining is resulting in devastating consequences.


According to ASPASA, illegal sand mining remains largely unreported and unenforced, this means that legal sand miners are at a severe disadvantage both financially and sustainability wise. Illegal sand miners have no financial obligations, nor do they have a responsibility to follow regulations and such.


One of the main reasons for the increase of illegal sand mining activities in South Africa, is the frameworks which govern the sector. According to experts, there is a noticeable lack of necessary capacities to support compliance with regulations which protect the environment and the safety and health of people, these regulations are what would keep illegal mining activities at bay. Despite stricture by government officials (including the president), oversight is by far inadequate. As a result, cartels are enabled to establish unlicensed or irregularly licensed mining operations.


Picture Credit: Foreign Policy


Now, due to the belief that sand is in infinite supply, one may think that illegal sand mining may not be such a serious predicament. Unfortunately, the repercussions of illegal sand mining are more severe than one might expect.


Illegal sand mining leaves a big negative impact on communities, as well as the environment. It undermines the strength of road infrastructure, over the years, more than six infrastructures have collapsed due to illegal sand mining. One of them being the bridge in Waterberg Road in Heideveld, which was majorly affected multiple times due to illegal sand miners digging under the bridge which resulted in dangerous hollows.


The pods left behind, have also become breeding grounds for mosquitoes; in the Kakumiro District in 2020, the Ministry of Health monthly report showed a hitch in malaria. In July 2020, the increase in malaria showed, cases at 61.3% of prevalence, in the same year, only a month apart, the rate increased to 68%.


The illegal extraction of sand from rivers leads to altercations in the rivers structure. Changes in the structure in most cases, leads to eroding of river banks, damage of vegetation and aquatic life. The sedimentation can cause the channels to be blocked, cutting off any access of fresh water for the fish and other life. Wetlands are also being affected badly; the mining in these areas are degrading the wetlands, destroying the habitats of aquatic life and vegetation. In the half a decade gone by until 2021, more than 16 wetlands have been degraded in the Kakumiro District alone. Experts say that these wetlands are a source of water for approximately 100,000 people.


Experts suggest that one of the most effective solutions to this issue would be to require proof of purchase from a legally compliant and reputable sand supplier.

“Compliant and licensed sand miners are required to comply with stringent legal requirements to protect water sources, protect the environment and surrounding communities, as well as ensuring a safe workplace to all who enter the site,” states Nico Pienaar, director of ASPASA in a statement.

A considerable increase in the enforcement of existing policies would do the situation much good as well.


May 10th 2022 | 6:00 PM

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