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INTERVIEW

Call in army for war on zama zamas, says Sibanye CEO Froneman

Call in army for war on zama zamas, says Sibanye CEO Froneman
Police crack down on zama zamas during a raid in Krugersdorp on 3 August. This came after eight women who were filming a video at an abandoned mine dump in West Village were raped and robbed, allegedly by a gang of armed zama zamas. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

South Africa’s illegal mining crisis requires military intervention and high-level police work, Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman told DM168 in an interview.

‘The military would be appropriate. I think we should declare a state of emergency around illegal mining,” Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman said as he elaborated on comments he made during the group’s interim results presentation on Thursday, 25 August. 

The issue has been the focus of public rage after the horrific rape of eight women at a disused mine near Krugersdorp. 

zama zama sibanye

Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Froneman said that going after the zama zamas at the bottom of the elaborate illicit gold food chain was only one measure and would not curtail the problem.

“Arresting — at the bottom end of an organisation — people [who] are poor and poverty-stricken is not going to solve the problem. If you want to stop illegal mining you have to stop these syndicates that control this, that’s where the value is created. You have to deal with it nationally and internationally. To do it nationally you need very well-trained people on the ground, not normal policemen,” he said.

“On an international basis we have to track gold, we have [to] ensure assurance of gold so that illegal gold cannot be sold back into the market. There are organisations dealing with that,” Froneman said, including the World Gold Council. “There has to be a political will to close down these syndicates.”

Zimbabwe, Dubai and India

Some of the illicit gold in South Africa originates in Zimbabwe and much of the illegally mined precious metal from the region is laundered through places such as Dubai and India.

Illegal mining has for decades been a thorn in the side of South Africa’s licit mining sector and Froneman said one of the reasons that Sibanye closed down its Cooke operations west of Johannesburg was “because we could not manage the issue”.

The Cooke operations were the scene of a shootout in July with scores of heavily armed zama zamas in which an electrician was shot dead. The employee was part of a crew sent in to fix a substation. The suspicion is that the zama zamas had knocked the power out to facilitate their nocturnal movements. 

But the gambit appears to have had an unintended consequence. Froneman said as a result of the incident, Sibanye is no longer able to pump water out of its Cooke 2 shaft, which is now slowly filling up. That will eventually make it off limits to illegal miners unless they can make a transition to underground scuba diving in a sci-fi movie kind of way.

“It’s in the process of flooding as we speak,” Froneman said. “It’s beyond our control and it was caused by illegal mining. We couldn’t restore the power to the pumps.”

Infiltration

On another front of the war against illegal mining, the three-month strike earlier this year at the company’s gold unit underscored the extent of infiltration at Sibanye’s operating gold mines. While the mines were closed during the strike, ventilation and cooling systems were shut off — a situation that flushed almost 250 zama zamas to the surface.

“There is no way you can survive in that environment for any length of time,” Froneman said.

But he said that with the resumption of operations, the zama zamas were back in business. Four years ago, the company declared that it had largely cleared the problem from its shafts after a blitz, but the infiltration resumed.

“Unfortunately, as we speak, our operating gold mines are being infiltrated again since the strike ended… Illegal mining corrupts the system. All controls we put in place get corrupted. Even your HR systems get corrupted by HR officials issuing cards to illegal miners,” Froneman said.

The war continues. Expect more casualties. DM168.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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