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Illegal mining runs deeper than zama zamas

Neelam Rahim |

4-minute read
17 August 2023 | 19:33 CAT

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – MAY 8: Zama zamas enter a disused mine shaft in search of gold on May 8, 2012, in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Jennifer Bruce)

Gauteng has seen an escalation of illegal mining, especially in areas south of Johannesburg and on the West and East Rand. The places where they operate have also become scenes of violence, with residents living in fear.

The most recent clashes between residents and illegal miners, also called zama zamas, occurred in Riverlea, where an innocent man lost his life. Law enforcement struggles to stop the practice, with illegal miners disappearing into mine shafts during a police raid, only to resume activities when the coast is clear. Mining companies are now accused of ignoring existing laws, further exacerbating the problem.

‘The kingpins who are involved, the politicians, the corporations, the security companies, the labour brokers and so on, who are all involved, don’t want this to end and they don’t want it to be legalised and regulated,’ says lead researcher at Bench Marks Foundation, David Van Wyk.

Mining companies own a site, take what they want from it and then it becomes a mining dump. Years later, illegal miners exploit the opportunity, which results in all sorts of consequences. In some parts of Gauteng, residents say they feel the ground shake at night while cracks appear on there with the fear of their houses collapsing on top of them one day.

According to Van Wyk, problems can be expected in the Gauteng area, South of Johannesburg, because the voids below Johannesburg are filling up with water. The water weight is impacting the geological substructure.

He said the matter is that mines are not adequately regulated by the Department of mineral resources resulting in hundreds of shafts that are standing open that are easily accessible.

Regarding the immediate action that needs to be taken, Van Wyk said, “we need to begin to demonstrate to corporations that they can’t just operate as they please and, therefore, some of them should be prosecuted. Now, we spoke to Susan Shabangu some time ago when she was the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, and basically what was said to us at that time was that they can’t find the former owners of these mines, which is nonsense.”

Meanwhile, there is also a labour problem; many of the zama zamas are ex-mine workers employed by the mines. When they were retrenched and the mines suddenly closed, many did not receive their pensions and returned home.

Listen to the full interview on Sabahul Muslim with Moulana Sulaimaan Ravat.


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