Krugersdorp rape horror – why are cops only acting now against zama zamas?
Armed with rifles, including AK47’s, grenades, rocket launchers and mortars, Basotho nationals act as security to illegal miners.
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In a country where at least 150 women are raped daily, it ostensibly took the gang rape of eight women in Krugersdop, Gauteng, for police to respond to decades of complaints about the scourge of illegal mining.
On Tuesday, Police Minister Bheki Cele led a multi-disciplinary team of SA Police Services’ Tactical Response Teams, Hawks, Crime Intelligence as well as K-9 unit, joined by private security, in a blitz operation to take down illegal mining syndicate of zama zamas in Randfontein.
First, it was the swift rounding up and arrest of the 80 alleged suspects, after eight dancers and crew were accosted during a music video shoot in the mine dumps of West Village.
Communities affected by the violence and crime that comes with illegal mining operations have for decades endured this terror.
With the scourge spreading from Gauteng, North West, Mpumalanga and Free State, authorities appeared powerless.
It remains to be seen if this is the kind of swift action and show of force South Africans must expect from law enforcement in dealing with the illegal mining that has left a pile of bodies over the past years.
University of the Free State anthropologist, Professor Theodore Petrus, said there were two angles from which to look at the police response pattern.
He said the first was the inconsistency in which the authorities decide how to respond to a criminal activity.
According to Petrus, it seemed there were instances as demonstrated now where the police are able to respond relatively quickly, but only if it was an incident that makes national news headlines and where there is sufficient public outcry.
“They demonstrated that they are able to respond very quickly. They are able to generate capacity to do what needs to be done, so the issue seems to be that of inconsistency – which they demonstrate that,” Petrus said.
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The second angle, he said, was also to look at it from the context of debates around foreigners in South Africa.
“We know that the debate around zama zamas being mostly foreigners has been an issue for some time.
“So the question is why is it that when it is foreigners in alleged criminal activities, the authorities are very quick to respond, but when it is South Africans involved – then there seems to be a bit of a lag in responses.
“And also more so when it’s local politicians, the elite or highly connected individuals implicated in criminal activities, again there is a lag in terms of the response,” Petrus said.
National police spokesperson, Colonel Athlenda Mathe, is yet to respond to request for comment.
A report by private security firm specialising in mining security, Blue Hawk Tactical, has painted a gory picture of communities under siege and overrun by illegal miners armed to the teeth, while authorities looked on helplessly.
According to the report compiled by the company’s operation team, South Africa reportedly has over 16 000 illegal miners operating in the country; from gold, to platinum, chrome, diamonds and even sand mining.
On the East Rand, there are frequent gang wars between the Basotho, Mozambican and Zimbabwean nationals.
The Basotho nationals operate as security detail of the illegal miners and they are typically armed with automatic and assault rifles, including AK47’s, and some also have grenades, rocket launchers and mortars.
Near Golden Drive for an example, there are reportedly thousands of zama zamas working on surface using phenduka plants (a manual processing plant) to treat stolen gold ore.
A drone video can easily spot phenduka plants operating in Daveyton or Lindelani, according to the Blue Hawk Tactical team.
“The area has seen a number of murders including of illegal mining gang members and even motorists who have broken down and were murdered in 2022 and 2019.
“The area is an illegal mining hotspot so if you come into their territory you run the risk of being killed,” said one of the team members who asked not to be named.
According to the report, illegal mining costs SA’s economy around R21-billion annually and is often linked to human smuggling and trafficking, illegal weapons and explosives, tax evasion, money laundering, corruption and gang-related activities.
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