Kimberley - A number of city residents are living in fear of being caught in the crossfire as clashes on Thursday between security guards from the Kimberley Ekapa Mining Joint Venture (KEM-JV) and hundreds of illegal miners left at least one residential property damaged by gunfire.
KEM-JV security personnel again opened fire on the illegal miners on Thursday morning as attempts to reopen a dirt road, adjacent to the miner’s Samaria Road informal settlement, left several people injured and also damaged the private property of at least one innocent bystander.
The resident of De Beers Terrace, whose property faces the informal settlement on the opposite side of Hull Street, said that she had been living in fear for her safety for some time already, but her concerns escalated to shear terror on Thursday when her home was hit by stray rubber bullets.
Dozens of rounds of non-lethal ammunition were left scattered on her premises and a bedroom window was broken.
“I live here with my teenage son, who was alone at home when it all started,” she said at her home on Thursday afternoon after calm had been restored.
“We have had issues with things being stolen and as a single mother I have been exposed to unwelcome propositions, but today is the first time that we have felt that our lives may be in real danger.”
She explained that a neighbour had phoned her at work to inform her that the illegal miners were clashing with security guards, who had opened fire in an effort to disperse them.
“I raced home, where I could hear the bullets hitting my roof. One even went through a window and someone could have been killed.
“Like any typical teenager, my son is pretending that he isn’t phased. However, I know he was shaken by what happened this morning.”
Despite their safety being put in jeopardy, the resident added that she remained sympathetic to the plight of the illegal miners but struggled to foresee an amicable resolution to the ongoing issues over mining and mineral rights.
“Like any of us, these miners are only trying to feed their families and most of them are good, hard-working, decent people, just trying to make a life for themselves,” she said.
“It’s just a real pity that it only takes the selfish and irresponsible actions of one or two individuals for all of them to be viewed in a negative light.”
According to the spokesperson for the illegal miners, Elisa Louw, Thursday’s clashes had left several of her colleagues injured.
“It’s the same situation that has happened repeatedly in the last few weeks,” she said. “Ekapa security again tried to come and open the road by force.
“Once again, they opened fire on us with rubber bullets and about 10 people were injured. One of the miners was even shot in the ear. He is currently having X-rays but will have to go for surgery at Kimberley Hospital.”
Police spokesperson, Captain Sergio Kock, confirmed on Thursday afternoon that the Kimberley Public Order Police were called out to a protest in the vicinity of Samaria Road, where residents had barricaded the road leading to a mine close to De Beers.
“The situation was defused, the road was opened and the general mood is currently calm,” Kock said. “No arrests have been effected and the police are still monitoring the situation.”
No response to media enquires had been received from KEM-JV by the time of going to press.
In a media release issued last week, the spokesperson for the KEM-JV, Gert Klopper, had said that illegal operations were a threat to established mining companies as well as the future of the city itself.
He emphasised that legitimate attempts to reach an amicable resolution were being undermined by widespread criminal and violent activities.
Klopper added that despite the KEM-JV’s best efforts, their business plan was being seriously compromised by the escalating prevalence of illegal mining in the area.
Klopper further pointed out that the illegal activities were in contravention of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) , the Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA), the Diamonds Act and a host of environmental laws.
Earlier this year, several of the illegal miners unsuccessfully appealed against an eviction order that was granted to the KEM-JV in the Northern Cape High Court, with Judge Cecille Williams not convinced that there were reasonable prospects for success.
Further appeals to the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court by the illegal miners also proved futile on similar grounds.
Meanwhile, the KEM-JV were successful in their application to have the initial eviction order executed by the sheriff of the court pending the outcome of the drawn-out appeal process.
The situation came to a head in mid-September when security personnel used rubber bullets to disperse a group of illegal miners who were attempting to access the TMRs along the Boshof Road.
This incident resulted in several criminal charges as well as the arrests of two of the illegal miners’ leaders, while four security guards were left seriously injured.
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