‘We need help to rid our village of zama zamas’

Group of illegal miners accused of spate of crimes

Mandla Khoza Freelance journalist
One of the houses belonging to residents accused of housing illegal miners .
One of the houses belonging to residents accused of housing illegal miners .
Image: Twitter

Increasing levels of crimes and gun violence linked to illegal mining activities is what drove a Mpumalanga community to take the law into its hands by burning houses rented out to zama zamas.

At least eight homes accommodating illegal miners were burnt on Sunday as tension grew at Moremela in Bushbuckridge after residents went on a rampage, accusing zama zamas of being behind the spate of crime in the area. Several cars were also torched since the violence started on Sunday. 

According to residents, the areas has seen a flood of illegal miners and increased illegal mining activity since last year as a result of crackdown on illegal mining in Gauteng. The residents said with the arrival of more illegal miners they have seen increased crime in the community.

Police, however, said they have been aware of fights between illegal miners in the area and, as a result, have set up a unit that targets the closure of abandoned shafts.

Police spokesperson Capt Magoseni Nkosi said some crimes were not reported to the police.

"We understand the situation in the area. People are only coming forward now that the situation has escalated this far. That is why we can't attribute all crimes to illegal miners, but in all our communities we are calling for them to work with the police and report crimes at an early stage," said  Nkosi.

Thabang Molepo, a community leader, said the community was living in fear.

"These people have bigger guns than those of the police and they would shoot randomly at night. We are scared to go outside at night. We have even created a community WhatsApp group to check on one another. They have even turned our young girls into prostitutes. We need the police to come and remove these people," said Molepo.

The torching of property came after several community meetings at the weekend.

"The problems started weeks ago when we realised that these illegal miners have taken over the area and we needed to take a stand. They have even taken over taverns and they  determine when the owners should close," said community leader Michael Mashego, adding that the illegal miners also shot at residents during a meeting on Saturday. 

A man who used to be an illegal miner told Sowetan they had to stop going to the mine because they were being bullied and forced to pay to mine illegally by the new group.

"I and my friends here ... we used to go and mine illegally until these guys came.  We believe they ran away from some parts of the country like Gauteng because most came driving Gauteng registered cars. They told us that we needed to pay to mine," said the man who didn't want to be named. 

A woman who rents out her backroom to illegal miners said she was scared to chase them out.

"When these people came I didn't question them much [about their background] as they were driving a nice car. I gave two of them a place to rent; I get paid well, but when they started shooting guns at night while drinking with their friends who visited them with girls I became scared.

"Community members told me who they are and how dangerous they are. Since Friday when the community started to chase them out they did not come back and they left with my house keys," said the woman. 

A group of young women said they didn't want the illegal miners to leave because they buy them food.

"These people buy food, alcohol and more, we eat nice from them. We are not happy that they are being chased away because unemployment is very high here," said one woman.


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