POLITICAL incompetence and corruption within government and the criminal justice system is believed to be the reason for the rise of illegal mining in South Africa.
Political parties and criminal experts say the situation is an example of how such incompetence and corruption have destroyed law and order in the country.
Their comments follow last week’s announcement by government’s Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster that progress had been made in curbing illegal mining in South Africa, with a total of 4 067 suspects arrested on illegal mining-related charges.
Of these, 63 are South African and 2 739 are foreign nationals.
Police spokesperson Athlenda Mathe said that of the foreign nationals, 1 285 were from Zimbabwe; 799 were Mozambicans; and 641 were Lesotho nationals. There were also three Congolese, seven Nigerians, two Kenyans, one Pakistani and one Ugandan.
Mathe said the arrests indicated the multinational nature of illegal mining.
The illegal mining combat team includes the departments of Police, Justice and Correctional Services; Social Development; Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment; Defence; Home Affairs; Mineral Resources and Energy; as well as the State Security Agency and the National Prosecuting Authority.
The ministers within the JCPS cluster agreed that illegal mining had impacted the finances of the state, employees, companies, the mining sector and the economy due to the loss of revenue. They said such criminals had to be dealt with decisively.
In a bid to help tackle the problem, President Cyril Ramaphosa has authorised the deployment of 3 300 SA National Defence Force members, across all provinces, to intensify operations against illegal mining.
The members of the defence force have been deployed until April 28 next year, at a cost of R492 million.
Many illegal mining operations are driven by organised crime syndicate with links to the illegal trade in firearms and explosives, as well as to human smuggling and trafficking. The syndicates are highly sophisticated and operate intricate buying and selling networks.
ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba said it was no surprise that foreign nationals targeted South Africa, as political incompetence and corruption had destroyed law and order. He said the issue of “zama-zamas” was not only a problem involving foreign nationals, as a failure to control immigration had contributed to the problem.
“Organised crime syndicates have been emboldened by the lack of accountability in South Africa, and they operate without fear of consequences,” Mashaba said.
The problem could also be attributed to failures in border and immigration control, weapons control, the regulation of abandoned mines, intelligence services, active policing, crime prevention, organised crime prevention and controlling the illicit flow of goods.
According to Statistics SA’s 2022 Census, an estimated 2.4 million foreigners – about three percent of the total population – are currently living in South Africa. However, it is not clear how many of them are undocumented.
In 2015, the number of undocumented migrants was estimated to be between 8.2 million and 10.2 million, due to instability in Zimbabwe.
Mashaba said a multi-faceted approach was needed to dealing with illegal immigration, including leveraging “our international relations in the region to pressure our neighbours to address the drivers that force to risk illegal immigration in search of better communities”.
“It cannot be that countries such as Zimbabwe receive financial support from South Africa when there are human rights abuses taking place there, which forces people to come to South Africa.
“In line with our law and order policy, adopted at our policy conference in September, we believe that policing in South Africa must furthermore entirely be reformed.
“This includes the professionalisation of the police service, reintroducing specialised units to deal with organised crime syndicates, and re-establishing excellence with intelligence services.”
Mashaba said the law and order policy called for the improvement of integrated law enforcement, which included moving to declare [as a] priority criminal syndicates, including zama zamas, as threats to national security, to enable the participation of the SANDF in crime-fighting efforts.
“There needs to be better cooperation between SAPS, the Border Management Authority and SANDF,” he said.
Patriotic Alliance (PA) spokesperson, Steve Motale, called on illegal immigrants to go home.
“Zama zamas have effectively become a violent occupying force. They are stealing from this country and destroying our underground infrastructure.”
He said the defence force had been deployed too late.
“We need more. If these zama zamas can walk around with AK47s, then they should be prepared for the violence they are asking for.
“All illegal immigrants must go home. The PA calls for mass deportation – and will deliver it once we are in government,” he said.
EFF spokesperson Sinawu Tambo was not available to respond to questions on the illegal mining problem and illegal immigrants. However, party leader Julius Malema has previously said no one should be a foreigner on African soil, whether documented or undocumented.
Institute for Security Studies (ISS) manager for its crime and justice information hub, Lizette Lancaster, said South Africa should focus on dealing with organised crime because it posed a fundamental threat to national security.
It was also a key source of corruption in the criminal justice system, and the state more broadly, and led to a wide range of other crimes.
Lancaster said that while the SANDF might displace illegal mining operations for a time, the networks were spread through communities and involved various role-players – from the actual persons on the ground, to the buyers and sellers of the product, to those who laundered the proceeds.
“In the medium to long term, efforts should be focused on intelligence-led investigations and the criminal network analysis, involving the police, Hawks, NPA, Financial Information Centre, [and] partnerships with the private sector and banks.
“This is the only way to identify and bring to justice the kingpins and the criminal actors profiting from the mining proceeds, extracted by mainly desperate and brutalised miners who are trafficked and exploited.”
Her colleague, Gareth Newham, who is the head of the institute’s justice and violence prevention programme, said the focus should not be on illegal immigrants, but on organised crime and organised criminal networks.
“The vast majority of the people in this country are undocumented from other countries, but they are not here to commit organised crime. If [the] police and military spend time focusing on people who don’t have documents they will not improve public safety,” he said.