The lack of track and trace technology in the supply chain of commercial explosives will keep illegal miners in business, according to researchers from the Institute of Security Studies (ISS).

Richard Chelin, a Senior Researcher and Willem Els, Senior Training Coordinator at ISS, the latest incident which claimed the lives of four illegal miners and left two police officers seriously injured after a shootout between the police and illegal miners on the outskirts of Johannesburg, is an example of how well-armed and organised illegal miners are.

EXPLOSIVES SOURCED FROM THE BLACK MARKET

“Syndicates obtain explosives on the black market and from legal mines and blasting operations. According to a mine manager with extensive experience in South Africa and Zimbabwe, personnel such as blasters and their assistants steal cartridges with every blast and sell them to the illegal miners. ‘Due to regulations and measures put in place, it is fairly difficult to obtain explosives by other means,” they said.

Chelin and Els said a senior law enforcement officer who asked to remain anonymous, said South Africa uses around 300 million tons of explosives annually in legal mining operations, road building and construction.

READ: Eleven suspected illegal miners from North West now in custody

OUTDATED REGULATIONS HELP ILLEGAL MINERS

As a controlled substance, the possession and use of these materials fall under the Explosives Act, whose regulations were last updated in 1972.

“Colonel Jurie van Staden, Commander of the SAPS’s Explosives Control Section, has emphasised the need to implement track and trace technology in the supply chain of commercial explosives. This will strengthen the control of explosives and curb the trafficking of illegal explosives.”

“If, for example, illegal explosives used in a crime or illicit mining operation are traced back to a legal mine, investigators could determine how they were removed and hold those responsible to account. Similarly, if illegal explosives are linked to the black market, the manufacturer could be identified, and police could verify where in the supply chain the explosives were diverted,” the two said.

As things currently stand, there is little scope to enforce such an initiative.

The track and trace system can be implemented only when the 2003 Act and the 2019 regulations are approved.

“They are currently awaiting sign-off by the Minister of Police Bheki Cele. Until then, law enforcement officers will struggle to curb the threat of illegal explosives and the various networks capitalising on this loophole.” The two stated.

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