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By Marizka Coetzer

Journalist


Illegal miners: With pressure from communities, police can make similar arrests – expert

In a matter of days, police arrested more than 130 illegal miners in the area, despite the community’s previous complaints over the years about crimes linked to the zama zamas.


Chaos erupted in Krugersdorp yesterday after Kagiso residents took to the streets and closed down the township to clean out alleged zama zamas (illegal miners) in the area.

The residents blocked entrances and exit routes to Kagiso and demanded the closure of old mine shafts hijacked by zama zamas who the community accused of the gang rape and robbery of eight women last week at a mine dump in West Village.

The Citizen reported hundreds of angry Kagiso residents organised themselves into different groups to apprehend alleged zama zamas in the area, which led to one death when shacks were set alight.

In a matter of days, police arrested more than 130 illegal miners in the area, despite the community’s previous complaints over the years about crimes linked to the zama zamas.

Police spokesperson Colonel Athlenda Mathe said police established a national multidisciplinary task team to address illicit mining activities and to track and trace illegal miners.

“In the identified hotspot, provinces disruptive and specialised operations are conducted to prevent and combat these activities,” she said.

ALSO READ: Kagiso residents warned: ‘Zama zamas are heavily armed and better trained’

Mpumalanga, North West, Gauteng, Northern Cape and Free State were identified as hotspots. Mathe said during police operations and investigations it was discovered most illegal miners were undocumented nationals from Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

“In a space of two weeks more than 250 illegal miners have been arrested and mining equipment worth millions seized in Gauteng alone. In the province of Mpumalanga 455 illegal miners were arrested since April,” she added.

Professor Jaco Barkhuizen, victimologist from the department of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Limpopo, said police had the capacity to arrest criminals.

“It is about the will to do the job,” he said. “Yes, the police are understaffed and underfunded but that is an excuse we can see that can quickly be mitigated.”

Barkhuizen said with enough pressure from civil society and the community the police can do what they did in Krugersdorp nationally.

“They just need the willingness to enforce the mandate we gave them, which is to protect South Africa from criminal elements and prevent crime from happening,” he said.

Kwezi Mngqibisa, research associate at the Centre for African Diplomacy and Leadership at the University of Johannesburg, said police capacity was a multi-pronged discussion.

“Police as a public good need legal, policy and administrative regulation. It speaks to a national framework that informs the policing approach, recruitment, management, resourcing and accountability,” he said.

ALSO READ: One person dies during Kagiso shutdown

Mngqibisa said there were limitations and underperformance around the compliance with lawsand policies, underfunding, inadequate training and problems with management. He added that the repetitive failures of both police and the broader justice system have led to distrust, with the police viewed as a weak link.

“Perceptions of police overreach, incapacity and mismanagement drive the narrative that society is not getting a return on investment towards policing,” he said.

“If we are to apply both to developments in Krugersdorp and especially illegal mining, we are dealing with the police capacity to deal with multiple crimes (sexual violence, rape, robbery) that are visible by the part response investigations and raids, of the police,” he added.

Mngqibisa said illicit mining included environmental and economic crimes.

“Right now, the police appear to be riding a wave of some approval as they sweep on foreign nationals. The question is, will forensics identify the sexual violence perpetrators?” he asked. “Will the financiers and suppliers of illegal mining operations be identified and apprehended? “What will come out of investigations – if any – of the violations of laws regulating the rehabilitation of mines?”

– marizkac@citizen.co.za