South African Communities Protest Against Illegal Miners
Various South African communities of the West Rand, an area in Gauteng Province, have taken it upon themselves to protest, search for, and chase away illegal miners operating in the area.
The community members claim that the illegal miners, known as Zama-Zamas, are perpetrators of crime in their communities, townships, and towns. Actions against the illegal miners have been witnessed in areas such as West Village in Krugersdorp, Kagiso, and other areas in the West Rand.
Residents of these areas have placed the blame for crimes on the illegal miners, claiming that they feel unsafe and cannot even walk outside without fear. “I’m scared to go to the shops. Our police are not doing anything,” a resident said, with another community member calling for the Zama-Zamas to stop what they are doing.
Community members have blocked roads with rocks and fires, taken to areas known for accommodating the miners, destroying the rooms and shacks they live in. Some residents have made an effort to look for the miners at the abandoned mines where they are known to work, with some closing off access to the abandoned mines.
According to reports, several angry protesters were armed with various weapons such as gardening tools, sticks, and scissors. These mobs of angry people had to be dispersed by the police using stun grenades and rubber bullets. Police Minister Bheki Cele called on the people of these communities to remain calm, while the police did their work.
On Thursday, August 11th, Cele said that the police department will not be able to stop the illegal mining activities on their own. He met with Gwede Mantashe, the Mineral Resources and Energy Minister, to discuss ways to put an end to illegal mining.
Cele also said that in order to keep communities safe and prevent criminals from getting access to South Africa’s minerals and precious metals, immigration and border control have to be stronger.
“The Zama-Zama’s began to terrorize the community and that prompted the community to organize itself and fight to close all the holes that are existing in those mining dumps,” said Rand West City municipal spokesperson Tshidiso Tlharipe.
The protests against the illegal miners were sparked by the gang rape of eight women in Krugersdorp, a town in the West Rand on Thursday, July 28th. According to reports, the women, along with a production team, were at a mine dump shooting a music video when a group of men attacked them.
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Reports claim that the men were dressed in blankets, balaclavas, and mining gear and were carrying firearms. It is alleged that the suspect’s fired shots in the air, ordered everyone to lay down, and robbed their victims’ valuables.
“We were in the middle of shooting the music video when a group of men, dressed in blankets, approached in our direction with guns, instructing everyone to lie down. They demanded cell phones, car keys, and jewelry,” one of the victims said. The men went on to rape eight women, with one woman allegedly gang raped by ten men. The men who carried out the attack are suspected to be illegal miners as well as illegal immigrants.
The rape of these women shocked South Africans and has gathered international attention, launching the South African Police Services into action. The operation that came about as a result of the rapes resulted in the arrests of about 350 men who are accused of carrying out illegal mining operations, being in South Africa illegally, and in possession of firearms and explosives.
According to reports, the perpetrators of gang rape are among those men. At the time of writing, 14 suspects have been charged with the crime, with reports indicating one of them is a minor.
South Africa is a country rich in minerals, with gold being one of them. The West Rand is home to a large number of gold mines that are no longer operational, giving illegal miners a fertile field to profit from.
These illegal miners travel from far and wide, looking to profit from these mines. A lot of the illegal minors are foreigners from countries such as Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Mozambique amongst others. Some of the miners are South Africans looking to make a living.
There have been accusations that a large number of people being arrested by police are foreigners, a notion that was denied by Lieutenant-Colonel Philani Nkwalase.
Nkwalase indicated that a mixture of nationalities had been arrested, including South Africans. “We arrested different people, from locals to different nationalities. I can tell you now that there were Basothos, Mozambicans, etc,” he said. “Crime is crime, it knows no color, no nationality. We are not targeting anyone, we are doing crime prevention, that is our business.”