Highlights from the “ASM in South Africa: Promoting Livelihoods through Governance Reform and Formalization” Virtual Roundtable

On October 14, The Canadian International Resources and Development Institute (CIRDI) was pleased to host a roundtable discussion on Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM) in South Africa: Promoting Livelihoods through Governance Reform and Formalization.

The event, developed in collaboration with the South African non-profit Mining Dialogues 360° (MD360°) and The Wits Mining Institute, built the foundation for a multi-stakeholder dialogues to inform policy and legislative reform, and to enhance the process of formalization of the South African ASM sector. The event took place virtually due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions, allowing many international partners the opportunity to join the conversation.

Tracey Cooper, the Executive Director of Mining Dialogues 360°, opened the session by introducing participants to the discussion objectives: what is needed to enable and reinforce the contribution of ASM to livelihoods and broader economic development in a safe and environmentally sound manner. Ms. Cooper also addressed the COVID-19 crisis that amplified already severe levels of desperation, especially in rural areas where there are very few livelihood opportunities, and stressed the need for regulatory reform on a macro-economic level.

CIRDI’s Communications and Knowledge Mobilization Manager, Munisha Tumato, outlined the history of the project as it relates to CIRDI’s broader mandate: to promote equity, sustainability, and to support green growth pathways for the ASM sector around the world. In 2018, CIRDI responded to a request through the World Bank from the South African Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), who had expressed interest in mapping the realities of the country’s ASM ecosystem for further sustainable growth and development. In response, CIRDI embarked on a project with Mining Dialogues 360° to provide a systematic, evidence-based set of data-points that could inform the policy review process. The study was developed in 2019, filling some of the data gaps that limit a more complete understanding of the ASM sector in South Africa.

To kick off the roundtable discussion with data, David Perkins of MD360° delivered a short presentation on the findings of the CIRDI-MD360° assessment. The major points included the following:

  • ASM is recognized as a potential pathway for development, but fully leveraging the value of this sector in South Africa in an equitable and sustainable way, will require policy and regulatory reform;
  • the dearth of data describing the sector constrains the development of common understanding amongst stakeholders of what the current realities in the South African ASM sector are;
  • the observed knowledge gaps and the lack of a common evidence base accessible to all stakeholders may frustrate the policy reform process (recently, the DMRE has started a series of “prior consultation” workshops ahead of the release of their draft ASM policy);
  • The current ASM situation in South Africa is challenging on a number of fronts: there is no nationally agreed upon definition of ASM; the level of ASM activity in the country and its economic contribution is unknown; questions of legality and legitimacy abound; the full environmental impact is unknown; optimising revenue is difficult because of a lack of market accessibility; and there currently exists a policy and legislative vacuum on ASM.

In a rich roundtable discussion, facilitated by Ingrid Watson from The Wits Mining Institute, the participants focused on determining common elements of the vision for ASM sector development. Despite many common opinions, coalescing around a solution proved to be challenging due to the diversity of the sector and its stakeholders. The participants did however agree that the new policy has to recognise and cater for the diversity of the ASM sector and the need for a granular approach.

There was extensive discussion on the nature and underlying reasons for the fact that the ASM sector in South Africa tends to attract criminal activity, often involving international crime syndicates. It was pointed out that the legacy of labour migration from neighbouring states together with the contraction of the large-scale gold mining sector is a major driver of criminal artisanal gold mining. The point was also made that nationality alone does not define what is criminal ASM and what is not. From the ASM communities’ perspective, resolving the problem of access, violence and crime is seen as a key step toward sector development. David van Wyk from the Bench Marks Foundation added that direct government engagement with ASMs and the establishment of a central buying agency to channel the revenues from ASM could reduce the hold that the criminal syndicates have over them. Providing ASM communities with better access to markets would have the added advantage of ensuring that ASMs receive a more equitable share of the value of the commodities mined.

CIRDI’s Isabeau Vilandre, Director of the Supporting the Ministry of Mines (SUMM) Ethiopia project, shared some of the successes and lessons learned from that government’s approach to the ASM sector development in Ethiopia. He addressed many common issues that characterise ASM in the two countries, and stressed the importance of a bottom-up approach in the policy-making process to enable communities to directly benefit from the economic opportunities the sector offers. “The ASM sector is a community-based activity, it is people and their communities driven by opportunities, or by poverty and need, that engage in all kinds of chaotic activities because they don’t have education, knowledge, and the needed support.” Additionally, he pointed out that an inclusive approach prioritizing stakeholder and regional engagement, continuous dialogue, and community input, underpin the success of the mining sector in general. “The crucial point of Ethiopia’s government approach was not in creating legislation and regulation immediately, but in defining the right strategy and the roadmap that clings to the reality of local people.”

Building upon Isabeau’s comments, Kgothatso Nhlengetwa from Imbokodo Mining Services focused on ASM Research and Consulting, mentioned the importance of including the knowledge of Indigenous people involved in ASM, and translating it into the current context of the sector. Thus, the policy objectives must be developed with consideration of pre-existing informal processes, for which partnerships and collaborative multi-stakeholder engagement are a must.

Several people raised the question of how the new ASM policy could fit with and within the existing regulations around environment, water, and health and safety. May Hermanus, Adjunct Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, drew attention to the specific nature of different mining sites and mined commodities as it relates to health and safety (e.g. varying geological, engineering, economic conditions), and stressed the need for a detailed approach when it comes to legislation-making process. Participants cautioned that this might be challenged by the related costs and the time needed to ensure miners comply with new regulations, as well as the degree to which the government is ready to get involved in the consultation process. At the same time, looking for short-term solutions – like signing a memorandum of understanding between different ministries, for example – could be an effective way to address an issue while the long-term strategy is being developed. Overall, the participants agreed that the existing legislation isn’t designed for ASM at all, requiring a fundamental rethink on a broader level.

The initial multi-stakeholder dialogue has started an important process of enriching and deepening the understanding of the complex nature of the ASM sector in South Africa. The need to unpack the root causes of the outlined processes provided a reason to continue the conversations around the best pathways toward the sector formalization and development. The context of a global GOVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and water shortage amplifies the importance of a structured dialogues process.




  • Ingrid Watson – Program Manager, Center for Sustainability in Mining and Industry, The Wits Mining Institute
  • David Perkins – Economist, Mining Dialogues 360°
  • Tracey Cooper – Executive Director, Mining Dialogues 360°,
  • Isabeau Vilandre – Director of the SUMM Ethiopia project, Canadian International Resources and Development Institute, University of British Columbia
  • Munisha Tumato – Communications and Knowledge Mobilization Manager, Canadian International Resources and Development Institute, University of British Columbia
  • Paps Lethoko – National Coordinator, National Association of Artisanal and Small-scale Miners
  • Kgothatso Nhlengetwa – Founding Director, Imbokodo Mining Services (ASM Research and Consulting)
  • May Hermanus – Adjunct Professor, Center for Sustainability in Mining and Industry, the University of the Witwatersrand
  • David van Wyk – Lead Researcher, Bench Marks Foundation
  • Chris Molebatsi – Research Officer working closely with ASM communities
  • Lucien Limacher – Environmental Attorney, Office of the Legal Resources Center
  • Bashan Govender – Acting Director, National Department of Water and Sanitation


Read more: Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining: Mapping the South African Ecosystem