Kimberley - Illegal diamond diggers have invaded the Kimberley’s graveyards, leaving headstones and graves desecrated and cemeteries littered.

The Northern Cape Provincial Heritage Resources Authority (NC-PRAH), a body that is tasked with protecting graveyards in the province, said it is still trying to develop a plan to prevent illegal diamond mining at cemeteries in the city.

NC-PRAH manager, Ratha Timothy, stated that graveyards and burial grounds were protected historical sites.

He added that illegal miners often sieved the soil on carpets, in search of diamonds, where the soil eventually fell into the graves. They also allegedly destroyed the headstones.

“The fences in the cemeteries are stolen and most probably sold for scrap metal. People are also littering the graveyards. Graves should be regarded as sacred.”

Timothy pointed out that miners had to obtain permission from the Department of Mineral Resources as well as NC-PRAH before mining activities could commence near the cemeteries.

He added that it was difficult to clamp down on illegal miners because they often dispersed before the authorities arrived on the scene.

“We visited a mining spot together with the police’s dog unit at Canteen Kopje near Barkly West and we saw candles that were used as a source of light during digging operations, although the miners were nowhere to be found.”

Timothy also said that inspections at cemeteries in the city proved similarly challenging as there were often no mining tools left behind.

“We don’t know where these miners learnt their skills, yet they are digging like professionals.”

Residents living near the cemeteries in the city added that they suspected that Satanists used the cemeteries to perform their rituals.

The illegal miners, however, said on Monday that they were not committing any crimes.

“No one is providing us with work. This is how we find employment. We don’t want to rob people or hurt them and that is why we are working in the old mining dump tailings that De Beers is no longer mining. An empty stomach is what drives people to turn to crime,” one illegal miner told the DFA on Monday.

“We dig in areas that are not fenced or that do not carry sign boards prohibiting entry. We are only trying to make a living and to put bread on the table and so that our children can attend school. We are not disturbing anyone and we have never caused damage to the environment because we only make use of picks and shovels.”

They also said that they operated at night, using candles and torches while digging for diamonds.

“Some of us search for years without finding anything. It is hard work and we live in harsh conditions. If we manage to find any valuable stones, we are prepared to travel anywhere in the country in order to sell the uncut diamonds to buyers.”

Some of the illegal miners have set up makeshift shanties within the perimeters of the graveyards while some are fortunate enough to own a car and sofas.

They also denied disturbing graves.

“We will not disturb the graves, even if there is a big diamond lying there.”

The diggers indicated that they came from all over the country in search of diamonds.

“Miners come and go when they can’t find anything valuable. We are all desperately searching for the big one so that one day we can relax. Some of us were chased away from the old De Beers mining site in Colville. They enclosed the dumps with electric fences so that we would not be able to get closer. This is our land and we will not be moving.”

Spokesman for the Sol Plaatje Municipality, Sello Matsie, said on Monday that illegal mining was a common problem.

He stated that miners were prohibited from mining within a certain proximity of the graves.

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