Natural sand from estuary and coastal land is one of South Africa’s most valuable resources. However, there has recently been a drastic increase in uncontrolled and unauthorised sand mining activities in rivers, valleys and estuaries throughout the country. The frameworks governing small-scale sand mining in South Africa lack the necessary financial and human resource capacities to support better environmental compliance, and the enforcement mechanisms to successfully deter illegal activities are weak. Consequently, there has been a flurry of new entrants to the sector, creating a system fraught with social, environmental, legislative and structural challenges. Although the cumulative impact of these illegal activities is yet to be fully determined, existing policy and management responses do not have the urgency required to prevent the irreversible destruction of riverbeds and associated estuarine zones.