Six illegal miners were killed on Wednesday in a shootout with the police as they allegedly tried to force their way into the shaft to provide food to other zama zamas – as they are known – at No. 6 Lawrence Park shaft ventilation in Orkney.
North West police spokesperson Brigadier Sabata Mokgwabone said in a statement that over 30 illegal miners were arrested thereafter.
“The arrests came after a group of approximately 300 illegal miners, commonly known as ‘zama zamas, attacked and shot at the security officers and later the police in an attempt to forcefully provide food stuffs to their fellow illegal miners who were underground,” said Mokgwabane.
“The shooting incidents that unfolded at about 18:30 led to the deaths of illegal miners.
“Four bodies were found in the vicinity of the shaft, one was found approximately 800 metres from the crime scene while the sixth one was found in the bushes near Kanana location. Several food parcels and two firearms were found at the crime scene.”
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He said the arrests and shooting incidents came after a decision by the mine management to clamp down on illegal mining activities by closing the ventilation shaft, which the zama zamas had been using to enter and exit various shafts.
“The action effectively stopped the supply of food stuffs and water to the zama zamas. Consequently, some of the illegal miners, voluntarily and due to shortage of food and water, used explosives to open a hole and started to exit the shaft on Saturday, 2 October 2021.
“On Sunday, 3 October 2021, more than 500 had already exited the shaft. They were thoroughly processed including being medically examined for dehydration before being released. Some were treated by paramedics while a few others were taken to hospital.
He said on Monday and Tuesday it became quiet with no one exiting the shaft until Wednesday.
“It was at that stage that some of the illegal miners launched an attack which resulted in the deaths.”
He said investigations by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) officials would now commence, who were immediately summoned to the scene.
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“The team is still maintaining their presence in the area to ensure calm. The arrested suspects are expected to appear in courts soon.”
This is the same shaft where bodies of 20 illegal miners were found wrapped in white plastics, with severe burn wounds, back in June.
Zama zamas spread
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 incapacity of law-enforcement agencies.
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 a danger to communities.
Additional reporting by Sipho Mabena