South African citizens in several townships west of Johannesburg have rebelled against illegal miners. The immediate reason is a gang rape last week, but tensions between residents and miners have been around for much longer.
Tens of thousands of men illegally dig underground for leftovers of gold in South Africa. But above ground, according to citizens, part of them are responsible for a lot of crime.
Near Johannesburg there are many abandoned mining corridors where mining companies once operated. They are now the territory of what they call zama zamas in South Africa, illegal miners. Zama zama is Zulu for “take a chance” or “try your luck.”
One of those spots is West Village, about a 45-minute drive from Johannesburg. In the fields right next to the mining town there are several holes where the miners descend into. There are regular gunfights in this area in the battle for territory between what they call “syndicates”: gangs that control the mines and buy the gold from the zama zamas.
In the town, you can also see men walking under the mine dust everywhere. The local residents say they are afraid of them. They would not only dig for gold but also be responsible for burglaries and robberies. Women don‘t dare to take to the streets in the dark. The neighborhood imposed a curfew on itself. For years, there has been a call from this town that the police must intervene.
The police are there now and over the past week there were multiple police actions in the area to crack down on illegal miners. Far too late, say the residents. Because the cause is a horrific crime.
More than a week ago, eight women in the area, who, according to the police, were part of a team shooting a video clip in the area, were robbed and raped by armed men. The alleged perpetrators are illegal miners. More than 130 have already been arrested.
Most of them were arrested because they have no papers. Many of the miners from this area do not come from South Africa, but from Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, among others. Through DNA tests, it is further necessary to determine whether the perpetrators of the horrific rapes are involved, say the police.
Meanwhile, the police not only have their hands full in tackling the miners, but also to deal with angry citizens. In several townships west of Johannesburg, there were protests against the zama zamas again today.
Yesterday, a protest in township Kagiso led to a violent confrontation with police after South Africans played before their own courts and arrested, undressed and beaten a group of miners. The police rescued the group from the hands of the angry citizens.
Fear of more violence
As a result, the police seem to have lost control of the operation to tackle the illegal mines. The citizens do not believe that the police are really going to deal with the problem because they have been watching for so long.
The fear is that the unrest is taking hold and that there will be violence towards migrants in more townships. Unemployment in South Africa is high and migrants have been scapegoats of South Africans in the poor neighborhoods before.
Meanwhile, there is also little confidence in Police Minister Bheki Cele. He is under fire after clumsy statements this week on South African’s largest commercial TV channel. There he said that a 19-year-old victim had been “kind of lucky” because she had only been raped once while another woman had been raped ten times. The opposition party DA demands his departure.
Earlier, we made this video about the illegal gold rush: