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Riverlea crackdown – police shut down informal mines, arrest dozens in drive to stamp out gun violence

Riverlea crackdown – police shut down informal mines, arrest dozens in drive to stamp out gun violence
Members of the police's Special Task Force during a raid on the Zamimphilo informal settlement on 2 August 2023. (Photo: Ihsaan Haffejee)

As police swoop in to flush out zama zamas and stop their turf wars, Zamimphilo informal settlement residents say they remain shackled by fear.

Members of the police, including the Special Task Force, have begun conducting raids in and around Riverlea in Johannesburg in an attempt to stop the violence associated with illegal mining in the area. 

On Monday, residents shut down the area, blocking off roads in protest calling on the police minister to intervene as they claim that the local police are outgunned by the informal miners. 

Police combed through the Zamimphilo informal settlement on Wednesday, searching for people linked to informal mining. Arrests were made and equipment used by the miners was confiscated and taken away in police vans. 

Police say they have arrested 79 people so far.

Residents of the settlement were mostly too afraid to speak to the media, fearing retaliation for speaking out. One woman agreed to share her experience of living in the settlement, on condition that her name is not mentioned. 

Shootings are an almost daily occurrence, she said as she walked around her shack, pointing out holes made by stray bullets. 

“I have little children, the sound of the gunfire has traumatised them. I can see the fear in their eyes when the bullets start flying,” said the resident. 

We hope that this operation does not stop. We are hoping that these police can stay for the next two to three weeks.

Conditions in the settlement are dire, with overcrowding and sanitation major problems. Portable toilets were overflowing with faeces, while young children played nearby. There is no electricity and only a few taps are available for residents. 

Riverlea police

Police watch as heavy earth-moving equipment is used to fill in holes used by informal miners on 2 August 2023. (Photo: Ihsaan Haffejee)

Shots ring out

Local community policing forum members helped the police to find sites used by informal miners, with police finding large amounts of gold-bearing material in the form of crushed rock, which would be processed into gold. 

“These operations will continue throughout the day and throughout the night, as well as tomorrow, until this area has been stabilised. The challenge remains that as long as these mines are not formally rehabilitated and shut down, this type of illegal mining activity will continue,” said police spokesperson Brigadier Brenda Muridili.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘We’re prisoners in our own homes’, says desperate Riverlea, Joburg resident on zama zamas war

Police moved into the veld opposite the informal settlement where the holes leading underground are located. No informal miners were found but police called in heavy earth-moving equipment to fill the holes with sand and rubble in the hope of making illegal mining more difficult. 

Resident Fuad Erentzen, who had been part of Monday’s shutdown protest, said he was satisfied with the work the police were doing. “We hope that this operation does not stop. We are hoping that these police can stay for the next two to three weeks. We managed to close some of the holes on a temporary basis but we are looking at a permanent solution. I’m sure now our residents will feel a little safer.” 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Boksburg gas leak — residents live in fear as illegal miners get back to work

Read more in Daily Maverick: Blood and gold – zama zamas dice with death in daily underground hell

Towards the end of the day, as police moved into the residential area bordering the mineshafts, a volley of gunshots was heard coming from the open veld near the shafts, sending residents scrambling for cover and police rushing in the direction of the shots. Moments later a group of miners covered in dust emerged from the veld and ran into the informal settlement. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Rob Scott says:

    Why are the police and the state reactive when they know clearly what the law is??

  • Grant Turnbull says:

    Legalise the artisanal miners and tax their production. Then provide support to formalise the industry and regulate the safety aspects. Like prostitution, this is a profitable business for the unskilled , thats how SA started its life as an economy.

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