Police swoop on at least 50 zamazamas

THE battle against illegal mining continues unabated, with at least 50 people arrested in Welkom, Free State, yesterday.

Ten of them were arrested after police followed on a tip-off that the men were preparing to leave G-hostel in Thabong township for a nearby disused mine shaft.

Welkom police spokesperson Captain Stephen Thakeng said: "We also got a tip-off from the mine security guards that at least 40 other illegal miners would resurface from the mine on the same day.

"They did, and were arrested."

The 10 would-be illegal miners, also known as zamazamas, were nabbed as they were about to step out of the hostel at the crack of dawn. Police confiscated gumboots, mine hats, head lamps, belts and some instant porridge.

Thakeng said all 50 men were Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe nationals.

In March last year, bodies of 19 illegal gold miners were retrieved at Consort Mine in Barberton, Mpumalanga. They died from smoke inhalation after a fire started underground.

Also in June last year, bodies of 86 miners were pulled out of Harmony Gold's Eland mine shaft in Welkom.

Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu announced after the Welkom incident that an illegal mining stakeholder forum had been established to end illegal mining.

"This government will not allow criminals to run their own mining industry, and we are taking firm steps to ensure that both the foot soldiers and the generals are apprehended," Shabangu said last year.

She said the forum consisted of 50 people representing business, labour, the police, local government and community leaders.

The department's Jeremy Michaels yesterday said that the issue of illegal mining had been handed over to the security cluster.

In her Budget vote speech yesterday, Shabangu said the cluster "has established a task team made up of my department and other relevant departments to ensure that there is national coordination in the fight against illegal mining".