Environmental and social impact of illegal gold mining on surrounding communities: a case study of Welkom
Sibiya, Reitumetse Pearl
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The purpose of this study is to explore the environmental and social impact of illegal gold mining on surrounding communities of Welkom. Different stakeholders, government departments and the South African Police Services faced challenges of reducing illegal gold mining activities because the operations undertaken do not resolve the existing problem. Both the environment and human beings are affected by negative effects resulting from unregulated e_vents such as prostitution, conflicts, crime, land degradation, HIV/AIDS, and others. Unemployment is considered to be a contributing factor to poverty in South Africa; however, it is believed to be the root cause of many other problems, such as illegal mining. In this study qualitative and quantitative research approaches were utilised using illegal miners or panners, stakeholders and the community as sample for the effective findings. Illegal miners comprise of the ones operating underground and above ground, as well as from different areas of operations. 132 respondents were selected to answer the questionnaires which are divided into three annexures which include panners, community and stakeholders; the questionnaires were answered depending on the willingness of the respondents. Qualitative and quantitative data was collected using questionnaires, observations and interviews in order to get reliable information for the study. Illegal gold mining activities have resulted in grave health hazards linked with mercury utilisation during the process of operation. Lack of ventilation underground during the panning is established to be the cause of death of many panners. The data was analysed and interpreted using charts and tables. Illegal gold mining activities were found to be contributing to serious future disasters which need mitigation from different stakeholders as well as the community for the protection and sustainability of the livelihood. Despite having only negative effects to human life it was established to have negative effects on the environment as well. Risk impacts are not well recognised by illegal miners because of a lack of awareness to the problem. Community members believed job creation could be the best solution to the problem. Recommendations of the study are that the establishment of a cooperative for panners is envisaged; to enhance the work in safety and where responsible procedures could be introduced; training and awareness of the impacts of illegal gold mining should be provided as this will minimise the risks that result from panning activities. Zama zamas or Diroto, as the illegal miners are known by in Welkom, can also play a crucial role by rehabilitating the land after excavating; the training to be provided could be imperative for reducing environmental damages. Disaster management is the coordinated approach thus required by three spheres of government to develop strategies and methods to reduce the impact caused by illegal gold miners, r.iot forgetting community participation during policy formulations. For the establishment of cooperatives the panners need, financial resources; it is thus recommended for government to provide funds for enhancement of the operations.