The war on illegal mining is gaining ground in Limpopo with the police in the province arresting suspects almost every week. The Provincial Illegal Mining Task Team, together with Provincial Organised Crime Unit, netted three undocumented foreign nationals this week at a farm in Zeekoegart Mountain, provincial police spokesperson Colonel Malesela Ledwaba said.
“The officers confiscated illegal mining equipment valued at R67 000 during disruptive operations conducted at separate locations under Apel policing area in Sekhukhune District.
“Police were conducting an operation when they noticed a group of people busy with illegal mining activities at the mountain and immediately pounced on the suspects. The suspects started to run away in different directions after noticing the police and three were immediately nabbed while others managed to evade arrest,” said Ledwaba.
He said the illegal mining equipment included one generator, a jackhammer and three shovels.
“This equipment was confiscated during the arrest of the three undocumented Zimbabwean nationals. Police proceeded to Ga-Phasha village and continued with the operations and found another group of illegal miners who managed to flee the scene and left behind their equipment.
“Subsequently, three generators, jackhammers valued at R50 000 were also seized during the operation. The suspects aged between 26 and 34 will appear before the Mecklenburg Magistrate’ Court soon facing charges of illegal mining and Contravention of Immigration Act,” he added.
Ledwaba said the police yesterday arrested another man on the R37 road near Machakaneng village for being in possession of suspected chrome.
He said: “Members of the Provincial Organised Crime Unit were on duty when they spotted a white Hino Tipper truck along R37 road near Machakaneng village, which was suspected to be loaded with stolen metals. Members then intercepted the truck which was loaded with Chrome. The suspect, an African male, was arrested for possession and transportation of suspected stolen minerals (Chrome) after he could not produce permits for transportation. One White Hino Tipper truck loaded with suspected stolen minerals valued at R1300 000,00 and chrome valued at +-R150 000,00 confiscated.”
The suspect is expected to appear in court soon, he added. Last week, Ledwaba said 43 suspects, including 41 Zimbabweans, one Mozambican and one South African, were caught red handed at Ga-Phasha Village near Mecklenburg in connection with the illegal mining of chrome in Limpopo.
Police confiscated R1 million worth of chrome and mining equipment including hammers and generators. The 43 suspects were allegedly caught red handed shortly before midnight.
“Police confiscated 12 generators and 10 jackhammers valued at R170 000 and chrome estimated to be more than R1 million,” said provincial police spokesperson Colonel Malesela Ledwaba.
Ledwaba said they all faced charges of illegal mining of a precious metal. He said since the foreign nationals were undocumented, they faced an additional charge of Contravention of the Immigration Act.
“The suspects were apprehended during a joint intelligence operation conducted by the members of the Provincial Illegal Mining Task Team, Provincial Organised Crime Unit together with the RR Undercover Security Company at Ga-Phasha village under Sefateng mine jurisdiction.
“Police received information about illegal mining activities taking place in the area and swiftly reacted. Upon arrival, police found the suspects busy mining chrome at the mine without authorisation. When the suspects saw police, they ran into the nearby bushes and others went inside the self-made tunnels to avoid being nabbed,” said Ledwaba.
“The scene was cordoned and 43 suspects were ultimately apprehended. Police illegal mining operations are continuing across the province.”
Limpopo police Commissioner Lieutenant General Thembi Hadebe said they were happy with the arrests.
“Police will stop at nothing in ensuring that the perpetrators of these crimes are arrested and ultimately incarcerated for justice to prevail,” said Hadebe.
Police Minister Bheki Cele and National Commissioner Lieutenant General Fannie Masemola have escalated the fight against illegal mining over the past several months. This has resulted in the arrest of hundreds of zama-zamas, with some linked to other crimes committed within the mining communities, iñcluding armed robberies, rapes and murder.
Last year August, the Hawks unit arrested 48 zama-zamas in Mokopane, Limpopo, with more arrests taking place at a smaller scale across the province. It is not surprising to see 42 of the Mecklenburg arrests being undocumented foreign nations.
The Minerals Council of South Africa has previously reported that 70% of all suspects arrested on charges of illegal mining are undocumented foreign nationals from Lesotho while others are from Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The council said these usually target abandoned mines.
Independent political analyst, Gakwi Mashego, said it was shameful to see police celebrating arrests of illegal miners when the trade could be legitimized to capitalise on taxes and minimise resultant contact crimes.
“There are mine dumps that have become too expensive for the mining companies to exploit. These attract zama-zamas who are not afraid to go deep into the shafts and retrieve minerals, albeit illegally.
“The government needs to decriminilise this type of mining and issue these brave men with small-scale mining licenses to avoid us sending untaxed millions outside the borders of the country while exhausting police resources. With licenses, crime will be reduced,” said Mashego.