Illegal mining operations and criminal syndicates steal, per annum, the equivalent of the total output of South Africa's legal gold mining operations in 2018. The Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe, however, has a plan to take down the criminal syndicates and zama zamas. The 1857 mining operations in the country yielded a total mineral value of R498.7bn in 2018, with R70.7bn of that value in sales coming from the country's 57 gold mines. Mantashe confirmed this in reply to a parliamentary question from EFF MP Lehlohonolo Mokoena who asked about the output of South Africa's mines. As previously reported by Fin24, Mantashe, at the Mining Indaba held earlier this year, said "in the gold sector alone, it is estimated that over R70bn per annum in revenue is lost through the smuggling of this commodity and similar negative impacts are also evident in other sectors, such as chrome, coal and diamonds".Responding to a parliamentary question from DA MP Veronica Van Dyk about government's plans to address illegal mining, Mantashe responded that his department had "established stakeholder forums in the respective provinces which implement measures to ultimately eradicate the illegal mining activities".He continued that the government had established the "multi-enforcement agency National Coordination Strategic and Management Team (NCSMT) to coordinate the government's efforts to fight illegal mining and trafficking of precious materials".'Poverty, unemployment' driving illegal miningMantashe added that this included "bringing about [the] successful prosecution of illegal mining syndicate leaders".Mantashe further stated that his department, in collaboration with stakeholders, has adopted a "three-pronged approach" on combating illegal mining. The approach involves "promotion of legitimate mining, rehabilitation of mines and sealing of open shafts as well [as] supporting policing and law enforcement where necessary".According to Mining Review, from a societal perspective, illegal mining is "driven by poverty and unemployment".The publication adds that "a recurring theme with many illegal miners who have been arrested is that they previously worked in the formal mining sector but have been retrenched as the industry struggles with low commodity prices and other challenges."It continues that "many of these retrenched miners have extended families that are financially dependent on them, which creates additional pressures".