Pretoria – At least six illegal miners have been shot dead in a confrontation with members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) in Orkney, North West.
SAPS spokesperson in the North West province, Brigadier Sabata Mokgwabone said 35 illegal miners were arrested on Wednesday for crimes including attempted murder, causing an explosion, malicious damage to property and conspiracy to commit crime.
He said the confrontation between police officers and the zama zamas degenerated as the illegal miners pushed to bring food and necessities to their colleagues who were in a mine shaft which had become sealed by police units in a bid to clamp down on illicit mining activities.
“The arrests came after a group of approximately 300 illegal miners, commonly known as ‘zama zamas’, attacked and shot at the security officers and later the police in an attempt to forcefully provide food stuffs to their fellow illegal miners who were underground. The shooting incidents that unfolded at about 6.30pm led to the deaths of illegal miners.
“Four bodies were found in the vicinity of the shaft, one was found approximately 800 metres from the crime scene, while the sixth one was found in the bushes near Kanana location. Several food parcels and two firearms were found at the crime scene,” said Mokgwabone.
Mokgwabone said the police watchdog, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) was “immediately summoned to the scene” of the shootings.
“The arrests and shooting incidents came after a decision by the mine management to clamp down on illegal mining activities by closing the ventilation shaft which the ’zama zamas’ had been using to enter and exit various shafts. The action effectively stopped the supply of food stuffs and water to the ‘zama zamas’,” he said.
Mokgwabone said that from Saturday some of the illegal miners who were trapped underground due to a shortage of food and water, used explosives to open a hole and started to exit the mine shaft.
On Sunday more than 500 illegal miners had exited the shaft. Police said they were “thoroughly processed”, including being medically examined for dehydration before being released. Some were treated by paramedics at the scene while a few others were taken to hospital.
“Although nobody exited on Monday and Tuesday, the ‘zama zamas’ exited again on Wednesday afternoon on October 6, 2021. It was at that stage that some of the illegal miners launched an attack which resulted in the deaths,” said Mokgwabone.
“The arrested suspects are expected to appear in court soon and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) took over the investigation,” he said.
Meanwhile, provincial commissioner of police in North West, Lieutenant General Sello Kwena has condemned the “carelessness of the alleged illegal miners” and added that no amount of force would deter law enforcement agencies from doing their work.