Usakos — Mines and Energy Minister, Isak Katali, has warned small miners to desist from selling fake gems.
While the sale of crystal specimens and semi-precious stones has been a growth sector of the micro-economy of the Erongo Region, some people have started to engage in activities that could cause extreme damage to the fledgling enterprise.
Katali said some small-scale miners were selling expensive and falsified mineral specimens with glued-on crystals and polished gems that turned out to be glass.
"They are sold to customers, and this has already, in many parts of the world, spoilt the reputation of Namibia as a worthwhile destination for mineral collectors.
Make no mistake, mine-ral collectors are connected through mineral collectors' associations, and they read mineral collectors' journals," he stated yesterday.
Katali was speaking at the inauguration of the Uiba Oas Crystal Market facility for small-scale miners collectively known as the Erongo small-scale miners stakeholder forum near Usakos at the Spitzkoppe T-junction.
The market was built at a cost of N$8.3 million.
The sale of falsified mineral specimens damages not only small-scale miners business, but also tourism in general.
He appealed to small-scale miners to establish and brand the market as a place where collectors and tourists alike can be sure that they take home not only genuine precious stones, but also precious and positive memories of the country.
More than 50 miners mostly women operate at the market.
For years, small-scale miners did business in the sun and in windy conditions. The location of the market is ideal. It is surrounded by the landscape of the Erongo Mountains but situated along an important road.
Katali said for years, little attention was paid to the small-scale mining sector.
"Small-scale miners lived a difficult life, trying to earn a meagre income from their hard labour, and were marginalised by the sector. It is remarkable that you have not been deterred by these circumstances, and persevered in your endeavour to utilise the mineral endowment of our country to provide for a living for yourselves, your families and your community," he added.
According to him, Government has recognised the plight of the small-scale miners and a number of measures were instituted to assist.
He noted that small-scale miners are usually scattered in far and remote places, hundreds of kilometres apart.
They lack the most basic mining tools, and have no access to administrative structures that would allow them to register claims to secure tenure for their precious finds and give their operations a legal status.
Hence the Namibian Small-Scale Miners Association was founded by Government in February 1996 in Omaruru, and ran a small service centre at the Ministry of Mines and Energy for years.
They received assistance from the European Union (EU), as well as the Swedish government.
The Swedish government funded a small miners' cooperative in Uis so that people left destitute after the closure of the Uis Tin Mine could continue to utilise the rich resources given to them by nature.
However, running a centralised small-scale miners association and a service in Windhoek proved difficult and inefficient, as it was too far removed from the region and from the people it intended to serve.
Miners could not travel to Windhoek to register a claim or to have a sample analysed. Hence, Katali said, a centralised association was not a right vehicle to deal with these different problems.
"We are therefore now supporting the establishment of regional small-scale miners associations, and the one in the Erongo region was the first one to come into being," he stated.
The Erongo Regional Council in partnership with Rössing Foundation implemented the project. It was financially supported by the EU through a Rural Poverty Reduction Programme with a grant of N$7.9 million and N$0.4 million from the Erongo Regional Council. Bringing the total cost of the project to N$8.3 million.