Johannesburg - The police have a duty to arrest illegal miners, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said at the launch of the Free State Mine Crime Combating Forum (MCCF) in Welkom on Friday.
“What the 'zama zamas', or illegal miners, do is against the law and the police have been instructed to place more emphasis on prosecution,” he said, according to remarks prepared for delivery.
It was extremely likely that illegal miners would face jail time. Mthethwa said illegal mining contributed to the murder rate and caused deaths underground.
Criminals often recruited foreigners, particularly those from Lesotho, as illegal miners by pretending to offer them legitimate jobs.
When the recruits arrived and realised what they were required to do it was too late and they were forced to work under dangerous conditions.
When illegal miners were killed underground - through rock falls, poisonous gases or subterranean gang wars Ä their bodies were usually not recovered.
“The truth is that we do not know of many of the victims because they are buried underground, leaving their families to wonder forever what happened to them,” Mthethwa said.
The MCCF is a partnership between mine management, organised labour, community leaders, and police. Various government departments are also represented on the forum.
“Since the MCCF began its work here six months ago, peace and tranquillity prevail at the Free State's mines,” he said.