Illegal miners use chisels to dig for gold at a disused mine near Soweto last month. Picture: Kim Ludbrook
Illegal miners use chisels to dig for gold at a disused mine near Soweto last month. Picture: Kim Ludbrook

Illegal gold rush turns deadly

By PHALANE MOTALE Time of article published Jun 28, 2015

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Sophisticated gangs that are armed with semi-automatic weapons such as R5s and AK47s and explosives are at war over the control of illegal mining operations in Gauteng, Free State and Northern Cape - but the situation in Gauteng is getting out of hand.

And the police appear to be unable to deal with underground shootings as they fear for their lives - they have not been trained to deal with such situations.

Gauteng Premier David Makhura made this startling revelation during a media briefing at his Bryanston, Joburg, home this week.

“Well-organised armed gangs are fighting it out underground in illegal mining activities. They are operating from Germiston in the east to Krugersdorp in the west. Police are regularly removing bodies from the shafts, and this is of great concern to us,” Makhura said.

Hawks spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi confirmed “the situation is very serious”.

“Just this past week several arrests have been made in crimes relating to illegal mining,” he said.

At least 20 people have recently been nabbed smuggling explosives into South Africa from Zimbabwe.

South African border authorities intercepted a Zimbabwean bus with 200 explosives destined for Joburg, on Tuesday night.

The suspect later appeared before a Musina magistrate, charged with the illegal possession of explosives. He was denied bail and remanded in custody to July 2 for further investigation.

In a separate incident last week, two men suspected of stealing explosives from the Lonmin Mine in Rustenburg were found in possession of 40 sticks of explosives gel and 73 detonators in Bapong, near Brits.

Mulaudzi said it was difficult to tell how many of the illegal miners have died in the gang wars because most are buried underground.

Asked about the increasing concerns over the police’s apparent inability to deal with shootings and violent deaths, Mulaudzi said: “We are not afraid to pursue them underground, but we are concerned that many more lives could be lost, including that of police officers. The police need specialist training to hunt these syndicates down underground.”

A showdown between Ekurhuleni Metro Police and suspected illegal miners, who were armed with AK47s in January in Benoni, revealed the level of access the men have to illegal weapons.

No one was arrested in the confrontation as the group fled to an abandoned mine dump and went underground.

Meanwhile, police have not yet arrested anyone in connection with the bodies of five illegal miners that were found riddled with gunshot wounds in a quarry in Daveyton in April.

Police confirmed the killings were related to the ongoing turf war between two groups of illegal miners in the area.

In recent months, a number of bodies suspected to be of illegal miners have been found with gunshot wounds to the head at different gold mines across the province.

Illegal mining is common in Gauteng, with most of the miners understood to be from neighbouring countries, such as Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Lesotho.

Mulaudzi said it was a dangerous but lucrative business as rival gangs often clash while their bosses are safe in the leafy suburbs.

The police and mine bosses confirmed some legal mineworkers are also implicated in illegal activity during their leave.

Sibanye Gold’s chief executive, Neal Froneman, said in February during the company’s annual general meeting that they spend R75 million a year trying to contain the scourge.

“Every mine has a problem. It’s not just outside but our own employees as well. It is a real issue that is totally out of control,” he said.

Mulaudzi said the police and other stakeholders had formed a task team to look into ways of stopping the illegal activity. But illegal mining was spearheaded by highly sophisticated and professional syndicates which would not hesitate to kill anyone who got in their way.

“They are run by criminal kingpins who have even appointed heavily armed security guards to protect their territory on the unused mines,” Mulaudzi said.

He said because of the seriousness and frequency of illegal mining, it has since been recognised as a highly organised crime that needs priority intervention.

In April, the parliamentary portfolio committee on mineral resources called on all affected stakeholders in the industry to expose the real “kingpins” behind the illegal mining. Chairman Sahlulele Luzipho said the committee was “shocked to learn that illegal mining was so rife”.

Sunday Independent

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