The South African Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, says efforts to root out those at the top of the illegal mining value chain are well on course, with “Level 5” kingpins identified as living in Dubai and Sandton.
According to Cele, the Justice, Crime Prevention, and Security (JCPS) cluster has identified five distinct groups involved in illegal mining: miners, buyers, sellers, machine owners, and “kingpins” who reap the greatest financial rewards.
Cele, who spoke at an ANC national executive committee (NEC) outcomes media briefing on Monday, said President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to unveil a specialized cluster encompassing the police, defense, home affairs, and state security departments shortly.
“We have finalized the new structure that will focus on dealing with zama-zamas. That does not mean we have not been dealing with zama-zamas up to this point. The complaint has been that we are only dealing with the lower level. Indeed, we have been dealing with Level 1, who happen to be those people that you see dusted up and dirty.
“We have moved up to the middle level. We have nine people who have been arrested. Those people we visited in Carletonville live in beautiful houses with imported Italian furniture. There are a few Lamborghinis parked in their yards. You realize that these are big guns. The Special Investigating Unit has already attached 51 of their cars and seven houses whose property value is R38 million,” he said.
According to Cele, three of the nine people are from South Africa, and four are from other countries.
“Those in Level 5 live in Dubai, while some of them live in Sandton. I won’t disclose much information on that, but I know there is an investigation by the Hawks going on up to that level. That is the value chain,” he said.
He added that in their pursuit to shut down illicit mining operations, law enforcement has also targeted professionally operating unlicensed mines.
“We are also dealing with a takeover of mines, as we have seen in the North West. There is a man that we have tackled. We have taken trucks and arrested the owner. Three weeks ago, it happened in Limpopo, where we took machinery and equipment worth R16 million. These are people who run mining companies without a license. That is why the president has told us not to deal with this as individual departments,” said Cele.
Illegal mining affects Gauteng, the Free State, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, the North West, and the Northern Cape, according to Cele.
Cele added that they started dealing with zama-zamas when the Tactical Response Team went on an operation in Welkom in the Free State in 2018.
He said these zama-zamas rerouted both water and electricity to feed their underground operations
“That is why you don’t hear much about zama-zamas in Welkom, because that is where we started to shanela (sweep) them out.”
Cele commented that the exercise was costly due to the necessity of relocating teams for various tasks, which entails additional accommodation costs.
He added that zama-zamas were not just benefiting from illegal mining but posed a danger to the community.
As an illustration of their threat to the community, he cited a recent incident in Krugersdorp, West Rand.
“Zama-zamas go amok and create fear in communities. In one instance, two groups came to shoot one another. They did that in the middle of everybody’s houses. Those who were in those houses had to take cover. Windows were damaged in the shooting,” Cele said.
According to him, the zama-zama operations were also associated with smuggling illicit firearms into South Africa from neighbouring countries.
Ramaphosa has ordered the new cluster to work with Mozambican and Lesotho colleagues to curb illegal gun trafficking.
Thousands of zama-zamas have been arrested nationwide since the beginning of the year, with only a few deported to their countries of origin.
Home Affairs is expected to increase its capacity to aid the deportation of those arrested for illegal mining.