Johannesburg - The family of a murdered illegal miner ambushed in the escalating zama zama turf war have been moved to a place of safety as fears of revenge attacks between rival mining groups grip the community of the N12 informal settlement in Cloverdene, Benoni.
At least four women were killed execution-style in a shack by two unknown gunmen just after 8pm on Thursday. Another woman with a bullet lodged in her head is fighting for her life in hospital. The victims are all from Lesotho.
The family were attacked two days before members were due to bury their relative, who was an illegal miner believed to be one of the executed seven zama zamas found dumped in a field two weeks ago.
The women's murders brought to 11 the number of known deaths, including the decomposing bodies found near a mine dump in Benoni last week.
A family member, who did not want to be identified, confirmed that the women were related to the illegal miner whose funeral was held on Saturday amid tension and fear of another attack.
“We identified him (the illegal miner) on Tuesday. Plans for his burial were finalised for Saturday. On Thursday night, family members were shot and killed.
“I went to the area after the shooting and I am shocked by what happened. The whole family are shocked. We are all asking ourselves questions,” the man said.
A neighbour said that among the women who died, two were the murdered man's aunts, his sister and a sister-in-law. The woman who is in hospital is the man's sister-in-law as well.
Ekurhuleni mayor Mzwandile Masina said the family were moved to a municipal property on Saturday where they would stay while the situation was being assessed.
He visited the family on Saturday and described the attack as “vicious, barbaric and senseless”.
“What makes this situation worse is that the family were still trying to deal with the loss of a family member.
“There is a lot of tension there and while we understand that people may be scared, the only way we can bring back peace in the area will be through the arrests of the perpetrators,” Masina said.
He said the city had provided the family with a safe house and food and undertaken to assist with the burials. The family were also taken for counselling.
Neighbours said they feared that the war would spread and more innocent lives would be lost in the crossfire of the rival illegal miners.
“I have never seen anything like this. I was asleep when the shooting occurred. I was woken up by the noise from the streets. The bodies were removed from the shack, one after the other, at about 2am.
"It was scary. Innocent people were killed. These women knew nothing about illegal mining but they were killed,” said the neighbour.
Also read: Seven bodies of zama zamas found in a veld
Masina said he would discuss the matter with Police Minister Fikile Mbalula.
“All these killings can be directly linked to the issue of illegal mining and I will be raising this with the minister of police to see how best we can root out this practice, which continues to claim lives.”
Provincial police spokesperson Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said no arrests had been made. And the provincial task team was hunting for the killers.
DA provincial spokesperson for community safety Michele Clarke said illegal mining had reached “an all-time high and the situation has now become untenable. Whether operating in gangs or individually, they place their lives at risk in order to put food on the table. Zama zamas urgently seek social and economic intervention from the government.”
Gunbattles between illegal miners have claimed the lives of dozens of people in recent years.