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‘We’re prisoners in our own homes’, says desperate Riverlea, Joburg resident on zama zamas war

‘We’re prisoners in our own homes’, says desperate Riverlea, Joburg resident on zama zamas war
A hole from a stray bullet apparently fired in a zama zamas turf war in the kitchen window of Riverlea resident Nosipho Magubane. (Photo: Ihsaan Haffejee)

Residents of the embattled suburb have called on the government for help, saying local police lack the capacity to deal with the turf wars between illegal miners.

Rivalry between groups of informal miners (zama zamas) has led to residents of Riverlea in Johannesburg protesting against the violence they say it is causing in their suburb. On Monday, residents barricaded roads with burning tyres and rocks. Public order police monitored the scene.

The protest comes after the bodies of five miners were found by police at the weekend, and residents reported heavy gunfire in the neighbourhood. A turf war between rival gangs involved in illegal mining is being blamed.

“We are prisoners in our own homes,” said resident Melanie Scheepers. 

“The war is no longer on the boundaries of our community; they are coming into our community and shooting at each other. Houses have bullet holes in them. What happened on Saturday night was the worst. It sounded like bombs.”

Residents say many of the miners live in Zamaphilo informal settlement, which borders on Riverlea, and that it has mushroomed in recent years.

During Monday’s protest, people could be seen darting across Main Reef Road towards open mine shafts in full view of the police.

Residents have called on the national government for help – some say the army must be deployed – claiming that local police lack the capacity to deal with the situation.

Michael Magubane, who lives opposite Zamaphilo, said the situation was unbearable. On Saturday evening, a stray bullet went straight through his kitchen window and embedded itself in a cupboard.

“If I was in the kitchen cooking I would have been shot,” said Nosipho, Magubane’s wife. “I just went and sat down in the lounge and prayed. I am still scared today.”

zama zamas riverlea

Riverlea residents block Main Reef Road in Johannesburg. (Photo: Supplied)

Community leaders say their pleas about illegal mining and the accompanying violence have been ignored for years.

“Basically we are under siege,” said Scheepers. “Every day from 5.30pm it starts. We hear gunshots so we basically have to be in our homes from [that time] every day.”

Police Minister Bheki Cele addressed the Riverlea community late on Monday afternoon: “It must be clear that they can’t come here and terrorise the community and the community stays in fear,” he said. DM

First published by GroundUp.

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