Mining the Mooi, Mvoti & more…

Many of us may have at one time or another popped into a hardware shop and asked for ‘Umgeni Sand’ for a building or gardening project.   Have you ever thought about where it comes from?  Probably the uMngeni River!  As long as there is construction, there will probably be sand mines, however sand mining on the uMngeni River (and other rivers) seems to be uncontrolled, and many of the mines are illegal.  Judy Bell, Chair of the Midlands Conservancies Forum asks “What are the alternatives?  Should we rather be using different methods for building? Should we be mining places where the impact would be less, for example before the river empties into our dams, which are getting shallower due to the silt from erosion upstream? There are ways to prevent turbidity affecting water quality, for eg turbidity curtains.  This all adds to the cost.  We all want more for less cost and this is where the problem starts.”

These pictures were taken on the Mooi River recently.


When confronted by the Dept. Water Affairs, the owner of the company admitted to taking sand but he was adamant he was not the only person doing so and said he was prepared to ‘re-habilitate the area’ he was mining.

 Apparently, he was also ‘sold’ sand by a landowner bordering the Mooi River.  Are farmers allowed to sell sand from rivers on their properties? With no consideration for the consequences downstream?


You wouldn’t dream of eating fish that was not sustainably harvested and you probably question restaurants every time you order a meal, so we should all ask hardware shops where their ‘Umgeni Sand’ (and other sand and stone) comes from.  Is it legally mined? Is there proof of this? If the shop is unsure, refuse to buy it. The more people do this, the more we will be able to insist on a manifest for all sand being sold.

Unlawful sand mining operations can result in significant environmental harm. Directly causing habitat change through erosion and destruction of vegetation and the newly disturbed earth is ideal for invasive vegetation to take hold.  Mining can cause turbidity in the water and impact on fish and other organisms.  Adjoining groundwater could be affected and the integrity of bridges and other structures may be compromised. The sand on the beaches of our coastlines originates from our rivers.


Judy Bell comments: “Besides irreparable damage to ecosystems, there is the increased risk of downstream flooding and of course, beaches are not replenished which leads to their erosion during severe weather. The consequences and the cost are being borne by society at large, not by those who profit in the short term.”


Di Jones of Coastwatch adds “As we all know, this is not a unique situation in Mooi River.  KZN Dept. Agriculture & Environmental Affairs  have just cooperated with the Green Scorpions to do a swoop on illegal operators on the Mvoti River and other major known sites, some of which were closed down.  The best way to identify the illegal sites is to get the Operators who are known to be legal and in compliance to tell the authorities where the illegal operators are!    The damage to the riparian zones in our region has been estimated at Millions, nothing has been rehabilitated.  We also cannot ever estimate the damage to our coastal environment due to the lack of river sand being deposited on our beaches to re-inflate them.”

Ian Felton of DAEA – “We, together with the National DEA criminal investigators, are currently busy with a Sand Mining Blitz. We have executed search and seizure warrants on a number of sites in KZN with more actions due to follow. The problem is however much larger and harder to get a handle on than we all expected but at least we are getting somewhere with prosecuting offenders.”


Read the post on Sand Mining which Penny Rees wrote during the uMngeni River walk last May. “The mining effects the local communities -in some places, people can no longer get cross the river due to the depth that it has been dug out, and thus cannot get to a shop of visit friends or family across the river. In other cases fishing, on which many depend for protein, has been negatively affected.”

Conducting sand mining without a permit from DMR is a criminal offence. This carries a R100 000.00 fine.  Commencing activities without environmental authorisation is also a criminal offence, with a potential of a fine of R5 million or 10 years imprisonment or both.

For more information on Sand Mining read:



Please report any activities you come across which might be illegal to:

Ian Felton, Environmental Planning, uMgungundlovu District DAEA

Phone:   +27 (0)33 – 347 1820

Fax:        +27 (0)33 – 347 1826



About Nikki Brighton

I live in Howick, between the river and the hills. I enjoy pre-dawn walks in the streets with my dog, sitting on the veranda with crochet and tea, and harvesting vegetables outside the kitchen door.
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