"Zama Zamas earn R23 000 per ball of gold, they're well connected to both police and politicians"


They live underground, are armed to the teeth and part of a criminal network whose tentacles spread from cops to politicians – and they believe themselves above the law; untouchables who threaten national security,

The zama zama illegal gold miners have been growing in numbers – and arrogance – openly brandishing assault rifles on social media. But the recent alleged gang rape and robbery in Krugersdorp have put them firmly in the spotlight.

Dr Witness Maluleke, rural criminologist from the department of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Limpopo,

said the illegal mining enterprises were a serious network infiltrating the whole country. It involved prominent and high-profiled stakeholders, he claimed.

“It is an underground chain, involving strong connections: from rural to urban areas, with gold ending up in cities to be transported to Asia and China for stockpiling. They are well-resourced crime syndicates and protected by elite individuals, including politicians. Zama zamas often collude with local high-ranking police officials, who tip them off if an inspection is about to be staged, making it difficult to close down the existing lucrative operations.”

Maluleke said the weapons used by Zama zamas were R5s, AK-47s and dangerous explosives, which even the police do not possess.

“They are prepared to fight back for their territories. This organised crime network threatens national security, urgently requiring attention from responsible stakeholders,” he said.

Nico de Jager, DA Gauteng member of the community safety portfolio, said the zama zamas posed a threat to the livelihood of the residents in the nearby communities where they operate.

“Despite police arresting more than 80 suspects over the weekend, there are still many illegal immigrants in Gauteng who need to be regulated.”

De Jager said zama zamas illegally connect water and electricity at infrastructures and often operated close to gas lines, which posed the risk of an immense disaster.

“Illegal miners also pose a huge threat to themselves as there are no safety measures in place where they operate.”

An informed expert, who agreed to speak anonymously, said zama zamas working underground could earn up to R60 000 a month. “They get R600 for a gram of gold. The small ball of gold dust they compact is about 30 grams, estimating to about R23 000,” he said.

“We have caught zama zamas who lived underground for five years. They go down the closed shafts and live and dig there for years on end,” he said.

Mining analyst David van Wyk has been working with zama zamas for the past 12 years along Main Reef Road, running from the East to the West Rand.

“The problem is we have had largescale industrial mining but never properly planned for mine closures and the transition into smaller scale mining. We have 6 000 abandoned mines. I don’t think a single mine closure certificate has been issued in SA,” he said.

Van Wyk said the lack of planning from large-scale mining to medium and small-scale mining was to blame.

David Bruce, an independent researcher and consultant for the Institute for Security Studies said no one should generalise about zama zamas. “Some are just trying to make a living. But it appears that a lot of the illicit mining business is controlled by organised groups,” he said.

“These organised crime role players in the illicit mining business have the same status as the Cape gangs, or the violent groups in the taxi industry that are all part of the problem of organised violent crime.”

Bruce said some people have indicated that the recent Mdlalose Tavern massacre in Soweto, where 15 people were gunned down, was linked to zama zamas.

“It appeared one or more automatic weapons were used. I haven’t seen evidence that these groups are armed with these weapons. If they were, they would pose a higher security threat,” he said.

“I would call the groups who incited the July unrest a threat to national security as their goal seemed to be to destabilise the country. But that is not a goal of the zama zamas,” he said.

Police had not responded to requests for comment at the time of print.

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