The only way to tackle illegal mining is to regulate it, Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources Godfrey Oliphant has said.
As keynote speaker at an event hosted by ENSafrica on the sidelines of Mining Indaba 2019 on Tuesday, Oliphant emphasised that SA mining was "on the up".
However, he said, thousands of derelict mines are a liability to the state.
"We must share both the good and the bad of mining, because it is a catalyst for the SA economy. Whenever you see a mineworker you must respect him, as he goes into the earth to extract all the minerals making our lives easier today.
"The same goes for investors who make mining possible."
SA geology rocks
The country can capitalise on its know-how, he argued.
"SA has been mining for over 150 years, and so when it comes to knowledge and skills, we have that and even export some of it.
"No wonder our young people say our geology 'rocks'."
He acknowledged that there was room for improvement, however.
"In the SA mining industry, we are learning as we go.
"We know we have made a lot of mistakes in the past, because where policy is not clear we can do a lot of wrong things like environmental degradation."
A key lesson learnt in the past was that environmental protection must be central to the mining process, Oliphant added.
"There are four key stakeholders in the process, namely government, investors, unions and also the communities involved. So, as we deal with the mining sector, we also have to deal with all these stakeholders in broad terms," said Oliphant.
"We see mining communities standing up in court now. Our advice is that as regulators our role is to give a licence to mine, but sometimes we make mistakes.
'Do things differently'
"So, we have to work together to make it a sustainable sector for the future. This means we have to do things differently to ensure the benefits of mining are had by all stakeholders. We have to up our game."
The issue of inclusion is also important for Oliphant. He emphasised that, due to SA’s history of exclusion, it is important to ensure the Mining Charter deals with inclusion while making the mining industry competitive at the same time.
In the meantime, Oliphant said President Cyril Ramaphosa was "beating the drum" of the importance of bringing investors to SA.
"SA is in safe hands. Mining is on the up. If we do it responsibly we can improve the lives of people," Oliphant said.