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Riverlea illegal mining protests: Frustrated top cop fumes over zama-zamas opening shut mine shafts

Police officers receiving medals

Gauteng deputy police commissioner Major-General Tommy Mthombeni (centre) seen honouring police officers, says sealing mine shafts will bring the battle with zama-zamas to the surface. File Picture: Oupa Mokoena

Published Aug 2, 2023


Several police units have continued to maintain a presence in the Riverlea area in Joburg which has been engulfed by protests, as community members sought intervention against rampant illegal mining.

It emerged over the weekend that at least five people had been killed during a shootout between warring zama-zamas in Riverlea, south of Joburg.

The community members said lawlessness had become the order of the day in the area, with bullets flying as rival illegal mining gangs, known as zama-zamas fight for control.

On Wednesday, Gauteng deputy commissioner of police, Major General Tommy Mthombeni was leading the law enforcement intervention to clamp down on illegal mining and arrest the operators.

Police in Gauteng are probing murder cases after five bodies were found in Riverlea. Picture: Yusuf Abramjee/Twitter

He said a long-term solution would be to seal the disused mine shafts, but the illegal miners reopen the deep holes in search of gold.

“We have been dealing with these issues (of illegal mining), even last week we were here with the provincial operation called Shanela. The issue is, like now, in this space we have arrested quite a number of people - not less than 20 and you can see the gas bottles and the gold dust we got,” Mthombeni told broadcaster Newzroom Afrika.

“What is critical, what is important, is to close these mine holes. Just right here, there is one here, it was sealed but it was reopened. I just had a discussion with the MMC for safety in Johannesburg that we will collaborate with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy in order to look on the closure of these holes and the main one.

“I think that is the main thing. If we close the holes, we will be in a position to mitigate this. We will not have these activities of illegal mining. We will deal with these people on the ground, on the surface,” he said.

Earlier on Wednesday, IOL reported that Police Minister Bheki Cele vowed to restore law and order in the Zamimpilo informal settlement and Riverlea area.

In a statement on Monday, national police spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe said it was untrue that the police had done nothing to stop illegal mining activities at some of the province’s abandoned mines.

Mathe said between April 1, 2022, and March 31 this year, a total of 1,199 illegal miners were arrested, including 100 South Africans, 124 Zimbabweans, 232 Basotho nationals and 79 Mozambicans.

“A total of R1.8 million, 9,991 rounds of ammunition and various vehicles and machinery used in mining were seized, among other items,” she said.

On Monday, Cele said specialised units would be sent to the area.

“These units are being brought in to ensure we apprehend these illegal miners and put a stop to these illegal operations.

“Our focus is to ensure law and order are restored in this area. We cannot have a situation where communities live in fear. We are going to deal decisively with these criminals,” said Cele.

On Wednesday, different police units were still highly visible in the area, south of Joburg.