Johannesburg - Zama-zamas now seem to be armed to the teeth and have resigned themselves to dying violent deaths if needs be.
Local police in Boksburg on Monday confiscated four rifles and one pistol after an early morning gun battle that killed three suspected illegal miners’ guards.
This was the second incident in three months and in the same area where police were involved in a shootout with suspected zama-zamas.
On Monday, the Ekurhuleni Metro Police (EMPD) Tracing and SWAT (Intervention) Unit members acted on a tip-off from community members that there were heavily armed men “guarding” an Angelo informal settlement.
EMPD spokesperson Chief Superintendent Wilfred Kgasago told The Star that information was received from reliable sources that men carrying rifles were walking around the settlement at about 4am.
On arrival, police spotted four men in the bushes brandishing rifles fitted with scopes.
“On realising the presence of the metro police, the men started shooting at the cops who returned fire and managed to fatally wound three suspects.
“It is suspected that the men who were armed with the rifles were tasked with protecting the disused mine shaft being illegally mined,” said Kgasago.
The metro police later searched the area and found 15 men suspected of being involved in illegal mining in the area and they were arrested.
After the shootout, the 15 alleged illegal miners were found to be heavily armed with four different types of rifles, including a sniper rifle fitted with a scope, and a 9mm pistol with filed-off serial numbers.
“Because of the gravity of the situation, the scene was handed over to the South African Police Service for forensic investigation,” said Kgasago.
Kgasago told The Star that no EMPD and SWAT members were injured in the shootout.
“In the past four or five years we have had problems with the zama-zamas who are primarily foreigners. These men are always heavily armed,” Kgasago said.
Gauteng SAPS spokesperson Lungelo Dlamini confirmed the latest occurrence and said that the nationalities of the suspected illegal miners needed to be verified.
Dlamini said: “At this stage the nationality of the deceased and the arrested are still being checked on.
“As police, we continue to deal with illegal mining. It is believed that the firearms confiscated are used by rival gangs to attack each other,” said Dlamini.
The 15 illegal miners were taken to the Boksburg central police station and are expected to appear in the Boksburg Magistrate’s Court soon.
Last week, a family of a murdered illegal miner had been moved to a place of safety as there are still fears of revenge attacks between rival mining groups in the community of the N12 informal settlement in Cloverdene, Benoni.
At least four women were killed in a shack by two unknown gunmen, while another woman was found with a bullet lodged in her head. She is still recovering in hospital.