Sipho Mabena
Premium Journalist
4 minute read
15 Sep 2021
11:03 am

Zama zamas spread their roots as illegal mining moves across provinces

Sipho Mabena

Illegal mining operations are threatening tourism and peace in small mining towns, while there are doubts over government's will to stem the tide.

Florida police officers, Florida Community Policing Forum, neighbourhood watches, private security companies on a joint disruptive operation in Florida, Roodepoort, on 5 August 2021. Operations are weekly and target random hotspots. Discoverers Clinic, park next to Florida Library and areas along Goldman Street identified by crime intelligence, and sections of Fleurhof. One suspect was arrested for carrying unlicensed gun, 'phendukas' and other illegal mining equipment. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

The menace of illegal mining has spread from traditional strongholds of Gauteng and North West into other provinces, which experts have blamed on corruption, politically connected kingpins and the incapacity of law-enforcement agencies. Illegal miners, also known locally as zama zamas, are increasingly tightening their grip on small Mpumalanga mining towns such as Dientjie, Sabie and Pilgrim’s Rest, a picturesque historic gold-mining town protected as a provincial heritage site. Of grave concern is the level of violent crime that comes with illegal mining operations, with fears that this will not only kill the province’s vibrant tourism industry, but also pose...