'Mama robala fatshe': toddler screams as zama zamas terrorise community

Children subjected to trauma of gunfire from illegal miners

Jerusalema informal settlement near Florida in Johannesburg where there has been shootings between zama zamas in the area.
Jerusalema informal settlement near Florida in Johannesburg where there has been shootings between zama zamas in the area.
Image: Thulani Mbele

So rife and violent are the zama zama turf wars in Jerusalema informal settlement that *Nomonde’s two-year-old son *Thabo would often scream mama robala fatshe (mama lie down). 

The toddler who is still in nappies, has been subjected to heavy gunfire that has been terrorising the community of the township in Florida, west of Joburg, where two warring gangs of illegal miners have been mowing each other down over the underground riches in the area. According to the residents, at least four people have been killed in the past two weeks while an alleged zama zama leader in Jerusalema was gunned down about a month ago. 

The residents said his death could have sparked the gunfire exchange between illegal miners in Jerusalema and their counterparts from Zamimpilo in Riverlea.

“Thabo knows the sound of a gun and tells me to get down whenever the shooting starts happening at night. We no longer sleep on the bed, we use the floor to avoid stray bullets. I’m scared and thinking of going back home in Limpopo,” said the 24-year-old mother yesterday.

Nomonde was among a group of 45 women and 17 children who fled their homes and sought refuge at the Florida police station on Thursday last week as the shooting intensified earlier in the week resulting in the death of two people. She and her two children slept on the cold floors of the police station’s office with bare minimum.

Her neighbour Nokuthula, a landlord and hawker in the area, abandoned her house and her two backyard shacks on Thursday to find refuge at the police station. 

“It is scary to be at my home at night because you don’t know when the shooting is going to happen. We now sleep on the floor because everyone is being shot at and the bullets go right through the shacks and hit innocent people,” said Nokuthula.

Police told residents to return home on Friday with the promise of intensifying their visibility in the area. 

But this promise has given the community little comfort as some in Florida Park have closed off with bricks the windows of their homes which are facing the informal settlement in a bid to suppress stray bullets.  

Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi has since requested president Cyril Ramaphosa to deploy soldiers in areas that are plagued by illegal miners.  

Lesufi said he put in an urgent request which he presented to the president at the NWC this past weekend and said Ramaphosa committed to attending to the request.  

“We presented that all law enforcement agencies that have the capacity be deployed in areas that have zama zamas without further delay. We are under siege. We would want them to be in those areas until the last man is standing. The president noted it [request] and committed to attending to it,” Lesufi told Sowetan yesterday.  

Jerusalema residents said soldiers would make a big difference but there was a need for a permanent solution. 

“We want soldiers to come because they don’t get bribed easily like the police. The place will be back to normal. We will have peace for a while but after the soldiers are gone the fights will start again. We want a permanent solution. They must close down the old mineshafts with concrete,” said a resident who didn’t want to be named. 

David van Wyk, a lead researcher from Benchmarks Researcher, who specialises in mining, said the deployment of soldiers was not a solution. 

“Illegal mining is an economic problem and it is a mining problem. The premier and the president need to inform us what they are going to do with big mining companies abandoning mines all the time. As long as mines are being abandoned and workers are abandoned along with them and retrenched without the pensions and other monies due to them, you are going to have illegal mining. 

 “The Main Reef Road is mainly the area where this mining takes place. The problem is that each mine that has been abandoned is in an informal settlement. This is because government did not plan for that mine to be properly closed. We did not re-engineer that mine for other purposes. We are now reaping the fruits of not planning to close mines properly and this is an issue of poor governance,” said Van Wyk. 

He said the presence of soldiers could result in further conflict. 

“In this way we are not looking at solutions we are looking a conflict. There are perhaps 30-odd thousands of artisanal miners in Gauteng alone who’ve got about 300,000 people depending on them. You take these people out of the economy, you will only increase inequality, poverty and unemployment,” said Van Wyk.

* Not their real names

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