Zama-Zama war in Johannesburg’s west

Zama-Zamas say they get extorted by the police. All photos by Ramatamo Sehoai

As calls for formalisation of artisanal and small-scale mining grow due to high levels of violence, rape and GBV, residents of Bosmont in the West Rand are calling for the deployment of the army to protect the community.

The discovery on Wednesday morning of six mutilated bodies of suspected Zama-Zamas in the Bosmont area has led to calls from the community for the deployment of the army to protect them. A clash between rival groups of informal miners appears to be behind the mass murder.

Faried Domingo, the chairperson of the community policing forum in Bosmont, disputed the rumours that they were killed by mob justice. “That’s not the case as these guys are fighting for a turf as some mines are more lucrative than others,” said Domingo. He added that the bodies were found hacked, shot and mutilated.

Domingo says that for weeks before the Zama-Zamas were killed, they experienced sleepless nights of gun shots and waking up to find bullet heads on the lawn. Business in the area was badly affected and the situation was out of control as he and his patrollers cannot match the Zama-Zamas. “They carry high calibre weapons and they are extremely lethal. There is no way we could have attempted to stop them as they are chasing each other,” he said.

Besides the threat to their lives, he said the informal mining activity in the area also affects the environment. “We have complained several times to the police and other relevant authorities but it seems either they are scared or involved in this syndicated and lucrative, illegal operation.”

Chairperson of the Bosmont CPF, Faried Domingo points out a spot where one of the Zama-Zamas was killed on Tuesday evening.

Briefing the media after the murders on Tuesday, provincial police commissioner Lieutenant General Elias Mawela, said there is a lot that the police is doing to clamp down on illegal mining. “We have arrested undocumented foreign nationals. We’ve confiscated tools used in the illegal mining trade such as phendukas (revolving machines) and generators. What we have seen is that the more we exert pressure and close more operations, the more they move from their initial operations and start fighting for turf. We are making their operational space smaller and smaller and this makes them fight each other for the smaller space left.”

On Monday he said they picked up three bodies and on Wednesday seven, bringing the total number of deaths attributed to this turf war to 10. Police provincial spokesperson, Brigadier Brenda Moridili said a process is underway to verify the identities of the deceased men.

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Regulate our industry say Zama-Zamas

Among the residents of Zamimpilo, an informal settlement near Bosmont and Langlaagte, lives 29-year-old Sbusiso Ndlovu who has been a Zama-Zama for seven years and hails from Zimbabwe. He had heard about the killing of his fellow miners, and insisted that it cannot be blamed on them because they don’t have time to fight, spending sometimes weeks and months under the surface. He had just come out of the shaft where he spent five days and only to get food before going down again. He says the problem is with the guards patrolling the disused mines and fighting anyone trying to get inside the hole.

The father of three appealed to the government to regulate their activities as they are constantly harassed by corrupt police. He says on average he makes between two and three thousand rands a day, on a good day ten thousand, but the police will come and take a large chunk of that. “We don’t mind to be taxed by the government unlike giving that money to the police and security officials,” he says.

At Durban Deep, an area also known as a hive of illegal mining activities, a police van parked just 150m from an illegal mine. They were reluctant to come closer and one of the illegal miners said it was probably because they could see some strange visitors referring to us journalists. “Usually one of us will take money to them and they’ll make their way towards us to collect the money. We have to work together with the police. We don’t have a choice,’’ Ndlovu says.

Holes perforate the land near disused mine shafts.

Bench Marks Foundation researcher, David van Wyk says the slaughtered men were breadwinners trying to make an honest living. He says they can’t be blamed for the government’s failure to regulate the sector and hold companies accountable for failing to comply with environmental laws. Rather than referring to them as Zama-Zamas, he calls them artisanal miners, who want to be trained in running small-scale mining because they are entrepreneurs. “Any government support will help a lot. They work under horrible conditions risking their lives and at the same time they are exploited by unscrupulous labour brokers and the mining bosses colluding with the police. This is a syndicated business where criminals found loopholes in law,” he says.

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Tiny Dlamini who is a monitor for Bench Marks, agrees that the mining activities of Zama-Zamas should be formalised so that it can create employment for many. “At the moment it’s a mess. There is too much violence and corruption. I wonder though if you legalise it, won’t that be closing a tap for someone because a lot of high profile people are involved in this,” she says.

Tiny Dlamini, a monitor for Bench Marks Foundation in Soweto points to a mine dump that was left by large scale mining without rehabiliation.

Government policy on small-scale mining

Briefing parliament on the 8th of September, Minister of the Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe said the department has finalised and published the Policy on Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining for implementation. The policy is aimed at formalising artisanal and small-scale mining to enable economic activity primarily for citizens, other known as legally documented individuals.

“In the last three years, Mintek has trained 630 miners to operate as artisanal miners in four provinces, namely, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, and North-West. Currently, the entity is training 200 women to also operate as artisanal and small-scale miners under the DMRE women diggers’ programme.

“Our support for artisanal and small-scale mining must not be misconstrued as support for illegal mining. We support mining for as long as it is done within the prescripts of our laws. Therefore, artisanal mining programmes will continue to enjoy our full support as the DMRE as part of broadening participation in mining, including the crucial participation of women and the youth.”

The policy document admits that the small-scale mining sector continues to have challenges of being informal, without proper documentation of the players involved and the people employed. The document states that currently small-scale mining is treated almost the same as large-scale mining when it comes to financial provisioning requirements, water use, land use, environmental management, and health and safety.

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