The Ministry Minerals, Energy and Water Resources says 89 people involved in illegal mining were caught and fined by the Department of Mines in 2009. Another 80 people were also caught in joint operations by the Department of Mines and Botswana Police Service in different parts of the country.
The Principal Public Relations Officer in the ministry, Potso Thari, said the Department of Mines conducts inspections or patrols of rivers, especially in hard hit areas, in order to curb the problem of illegal sand mining. Thari said people caught in illegal mining or conveying river sand from source that is unlicensed to mine and sell river sand, summary fines are imposed and the sand is confiscated and tipped at a nearby Kgotla or Police station for use in community projects.
Thari said the Department of Mines also engages and collaborates with stakeholders to help in the fight against illegal mining, especially the Botswana Police Service who help, through joint operations and raids in affected rivers as well as roadblocks and patrols to nab illegal miners.
She said that illegal sand mining causes environmental degradation and adversely impacts on other uses of rivers. The Ministry was responding to an inquiry about a now seeming infamous trend of illegal sand mining in this country, which has seen major rivers being left with almost no sand.
“Since illegal mines do not pay any minerals concession fees, royalties and taxes, the result is that government loses out on revenue which could have otherwise accrued to it and used for developments in the country,” said Thari.
She also said illegal miners do not subscribe to following the law, standards and guidelines intended to ensure sustainable mining. She said they also undermine legitimate businesses who subscribe to the sand mining regulations.
The legislation of sand mining falls under the Mines and Minerals Act, 1999 and sand is classified as an industrial mineral under this Act. According to this Act, for one to get a mining licence he or she should have a prospecting licence which initially gives one the right to survey and assess an area for commercial mining purposes. For Industrial Minerals, prospecting licence attracts a cost of BWP500. A person issued a mining licence is also subjected to pay P100 per square kilometre applied for or part thereof.
The Mines and Minerals Act of 1999 also offers a mining permit to a person wishing to conduct small scale mining operations of any mineral other than diamonds over an area not exceeding 0.5 km 2 per permit. It also states that the minerals permit to exploit industrial minerals shall not be granted to a person who is not a citizen of Botswana.
One of the rivers most affected by excessive illegal sand mining is the Metsimotlhabe River, which has been on local media often, with Metsimotlhabe villagers complaining of being deprived of their water source by illegal miners who have left the river sand to almost what they are calling an extinction phase.