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Illegal mining crackdown — minister fires warning to foreigners ‘wreaking havoc’, as national drive racks up 4,000 arrests

Illegal mining crackdown — minister fires warning to foreigners ‘wreaking havoc’, as national drive racks up 4,000 arrests
Police destroy several structures in an attempt to shut down an illegal mine during a raid on zama zamas in Krugersdorp on 3 August 2022. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Defence Minister Thandi Modise has blamed ‘trained soldiers’ from neighbouring countries for the illegal mining scourge, warning that South Africa will ‘match fire with fire’.

Between April and August 2023, 329 people were convicted of illegal mining activities, a briefing by the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster (JCPS) ministers heard on Friday.

Deployment of the National Intervention Team in Mpumalanga to deal with illegal mining and the Eskom energy crisis had resulted in the arrest of 67 illegal miners, while mining equipment worth R180-million and coal worth R12-million had been seized.

In addition, 4,067 suspects were arrested on various illegal mining-related charges, they said.

These were among the figures released by Defence Minister Thandi Modise, Police Minister Bheki Cele and Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, who were briefing the media on efforts to contain illegal mining.

Modise blamed illegal mining on foreigners: “We know that the people who are wreaking havoc not only in Gauteng mines but in the North West mines, come from our neighbours and are trained soldiers. He added that they have weapons that are not carried by the police, therefore the army will match fire with fire.

illegal mining

Police operations in Riverlea, Johannesburg, in August 2023 resulted in the arrest of 79 suspects. (Photo: SAPS)

“That is why, as defence, we have begun discussions with our counterparts about how trained soldiers, particularly those in the hierarchy, behave illegally outside their countries, and what we might agree on doing with those who are seen acting in countries that are not their own,” Modise said.

Asked whether identifying these countries was divisive, the minister said: “I don’t think it is our jobs as ministers to protect the image of other countries when ours is going to the tatters because other people are coming in and disregarding the laws within our borders.

“Therefore we should take a hard stance against any foreign national who comes into this country with the sole intention of breaking our laws.”

The South African National Defence Force is executing an intensive anti-criminality operation against illegal mining across all provinces in collaboration with the South African Police Service. 

According to the JCPS, over the past year there has been an upsurge in incidents where illegal miners held towns hostage, committing violent crimes such as murder and rape, and subsurface gas explosions caused infrastructure damage.

“Illegal mining has also been linked to other organised crimes such as gangsterism, human trafficking, money laundering, dealing in illegal weapons and explosives, tax evasion, illegal immigration and transnational organised crimes,” a joint statement reads. 

illegal mining

Police crack down on zama zamas during a raid in Krugersdorp on 3 August 2022. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

“These are serious criminal activities which the government views in the most serious light, that threaten our national security and thus need serious intervention, which we are about today.”

To address these threats of national security, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s National Security Council has tasked the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure with conducting a thorough threat analysis of all mining activities, including legally operated, abandoned and disused mines.

Across South Africa there are 6,100 derelict or ownerless mines.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “6,000 health and environmental ‘time bombs’ still to be defused – Govt decades behind schedule”.

The results of the crackdown on illegal mining so far:

  • To date 4,067 suspects have been arrested on various illegal mining-related charges;
  • The National Intervention Team deployed in Mpumalanga arrested 67 illegal miners, with mining equipment worth R180-million and coal worth R12-million seized;
  • Between April and August 2023, 329 accused were convicted of offences related to illicit mining;
  • In the same period there were 7,351 cases in which the accused were convicted of contraventions of the Immigration Act. As of Wednesday, 7 November 2023, 4,068 cases related to contravention of this act were pending before court; and
  • Among the arrests are 63 South Africans and 2,790 suspects from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Kenya, Pakistan and Uganda.

Police Minister Bheki Cele address residents of Riverlea in Johannesburg on 4 August 2023 after five bodies of suspected illegal miners were found in the area and more than 100 people have been arrested in connection with illegal mining. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

Combating drugs

Concerning drug proliferation, the ministers said there had been intensified intelligence-led operations at ports of entry and routes leading to and from the country to address the flow of drugs in the country.

In recent weeks this had resulted in:

  • Nine drug laboratories worth more than R3-million were dismantled in Gauteng, North West and the Western Cape;
  • In three weeks police intercepted large quantities of cocaine in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. The latest bust was last week at the port in Gqeberha, where R65-million worth of the drug was seized from a vessel that was coming in from Brazil. Police were following up on intelligence when the seizure was made;
  • In KwaZulu-Natal, R150-million worth of cocaine was seized over two days. In the first bust, R70-million worth of the drug was seized at Durban Harbour. In the second, R80-million worth was seized at the Dube Trade Port at King Shaka International Airport; and
  • Three weeks ago, the police led the destruction of drugs with a street value of about R800-million – the third such event this financial year. The drugs had been confiscated during day-to-day policing operations across the country. The most recent destruction was in Cape Town in September, involving drugs worth R170-million.

Daily Maverick investigative journalist Caryn Dolley reported a week ago how police operations related to narcotrafficking have wiped nearly R1-billion worth of drugs off the market

Read more in Daily Maverick: Cocaine, gold and money laundering – Irish cartel’s ‘fingerprints’ lifted in SA

According to Cele these successes show that the police are disrupting drug use and the distribution value chain in the country, and making inroads towards winning the fight against drug trafficking.

zama zama raid

Authorities raid illegal miners on 3 August 2022 in Krugersdorp. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

Extortion at construction sites

The briefing also heard that the country has been facing sporadic incidents of violence and extortion at construction sites as a result of the demand for a 30% stake in community initiatives. 

In all nine provinces, an “investigative capability” had been formed to speed up and improve a multidisciplinary approach to dealing with prospective and actual criminal situations. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Extortion in the building sector, particularly in Cape Town, has reached the point where paying off syndicates will become the norm.”

From April 2023 to date, 61 suspects linked to these extortions had been arrested. Since 2019, 27 accused had been convicted and sentenced to a collective 43 years’ direct imprisonment.

According to Cele, in communities extortion and demanding protection fees by criminal syndicates have become the order of the day. DM


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  • Shaun Slayer says:

    “Defence Minister Thandi Modise has blamed ‘trained soldiers’ from neighbouring countries for the illegal mining scourge, warning that South Africa will ‘match fire with fire’.”
    Modise received preliminary political education in Tanzania and then received military training at various Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) camps in Angola and later in Maputo, Mozambique. In January 1978, shortly after her 19th birthday, Modise used a false passport to cross the Swazi border into South Africa, where she worked underground as an MK operative.
    [2] She had received topographical training and her primary task was reconnaissance of potential targets for sabotage and other guerrilla attacks.[3] She was based variously in Johannesburg, in Diepkloof, Soweto, and in Eldorado Park, and she occasionally crossed back into Swaziland to report back to the MK regional command stationed there.
    [3] Over the course of two days in March 1978, she planted homemade incendiary devices, concealed in matchboxes, inside two OK Bazaars and Edgars stores in Johannesburg.
    Once a terrorist, always a terrorist. I suppose it just depends on what side of the table you are sitting on hey. She is probably behind all these anti Israel protests going on in Cape Town.

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