Death does not deter zama-zamas

Miner holding his safety hat.
Miner holding his safety hat.
Image: 123RF/ fesenko

Illegal miners – better known as zama -zamas – had to blast open a rock that had crushed their colleagues to death in a disused mine shaft near Angelo informal settlement in Boksburg, Ekurhuleni.

The group then wrapped the five bodies in plastic sacks and dumped them in a veld fearing their deaths would bring the attention of authorities to its illegal activity.

The bodies were brought to the surface on Saturday.

Police made the gruesome discovery of the five rotting bodies after locals alerted them to the crime scene.

The illegal miners had apparently separated into two groups last week after entering the disused mine shaft where they hunt for gold daily.

Captain Kay Makhubele said five inquest dockets have been opened after the discovery of the bodies.

“It is alleged that the bodies were brought out from the old mine and dumped next to the squatter camp. The cause of death is unknown,” he said.

But illegal miners who were with the deceased before they were killed told Sowetan the five had been working on the site where they died even though it was dangerous.

An illegal miner who worked with the five men said they were killed by a rock that crushed their bodies.

The miner said he was involved in retrieving the bodies after blasting open the rock that crushed them.

He told Sowetan that they entered the mine with the five nine days ago but they chose to take a dangerous route.

“There are two routes. We normally go to the left because it is safer but they chose to go to the right where it’s dangerous,” he said.

“Four days later, we realised that they did not go up to look for food and we were concerned. We sent out one person to go and look for them. He came back and told us they were all dead. He said they were crushed by a big rock that we call a table,” he said.

The man said a group of 30 men went inside to retrieve the five bodies.

“They used a drill bit to crack the rock and eventually bombed it into small pieces so they could get to the bodies. They then wrapped the bodies in plastic and sacks and tied ropes around them,” he said.

The father of two said when the bodies were brought to surface, they dumped them in the street.

The man, 28, who has been working at illegal mines since he was 16, said he would continue to go underground because he cannot find work.

“I know that going there is risky. It’s either you come back with money or they carry your body out but we do not have a choice because we cannot find work. I take care of my parents, children and three brothers,” he said.

Another man, 24, said though he feared for his life, he would continue to mine in the shaft because that was his only means of earning a living.

“My heart is broken because of what happened to my colleagues. I may be scared for now but I will still go back to make money. I started mining when I was 16 and this is the only job I know. I don’t have an alternative plan to make money,” he said.

Community leader Kenneth Ngobeni said more young people arrive in the area to practise illegal mining.

“We are shocked that so many people died at once. The number of young people who come here is alarming. Most of them are minors who do not have experience in mining. We have learned to accept them in our community because they come from countries that have a lot of challenges,” he said.

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