Johannesburg - Police have seized about 200 bags of gold dust in Rosettenville.
Joburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) officers stumbled across the bags while patrolling the area on Wednesday.
JMPD deputy director Faith Lekgwathi told The Star that the police were doing their normal patrol duties when they spotted the illegal miners, and called for back-up.
Several dug holes with shovels in them were found at the site, alongside bags containing gold dust.
Themba Selonga, one of the illegal miners at the scene when other zama zamas were apprehended, said there was nothing wrong with illegal mining activity, as they were doing it to make a living.
Selonga said it had been a month since he started mining illegally at the dump site.
“There is nothing wrong that I am doing. As you see me standing here and telling you about this operation, the police should not arrest me as I am only making a living for myself and my family,” he told The Star shortly before he was arrested.
Selonga said he used to work at the mines and lost his job, which led him to resort to illegal mining. He explained that he trod carefully and avoided going deeper into the mine to avoid the danger inside.
“I dig up to one metre of the hole, and start pouring the soil into my bags that I will later mix with water that will leave the small pieces of gold dust,” he said.
Selonga, who is in his early 30s, said he trained a few of the people he worked with as he saw them wandering the streets looking for food.
“I felt bad and I decided to show them how to make money without stealing and robbing people,” he said.
If he managed to fill 100 bags with gold dust, he usually made close to R2000, which he shared with fellow zama zamas he teamed up with.
He was left with about R500 that he used to support his family.
Another zama zama, who wanted to remain anonymous, said he was in the same “scheme” as Selonga, although they don’t work together as each group has its own territory to dig up.
The man said he was originally from Lesotho and he was told about the place by his friend.
“A friend told me about the place before it was full of zama zamas and I saw an opportunity to make money and have my territory,” he said.
Lekgwathi said the zama zamas had informed her about other operations that were more dangerous taking place across the road.
“We need to plan a big operation together with the SAPS as the zama zamas are more aggressive on that other side as I am informed on how aggressive they can become,” said Lekgwathi.
She added that some of the illegal miners were actually camping inside the dug up holes, and they had their own operating times, as they only worked at night.
Lekgwathi said the arrested zama zamas would be charged with having suspected stolen property.
She said the police would investigate whether the mine dumps belonged to the City of Joburg or a private owner.