Organized Crime and Corruption Fuel Africa’s Illegal Mining Crisis

Uncontrolled gangs were largely ignored by police until recent brutal crimes shocked the country

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—In the shadow of a six-storey-high mining dump, excavated sand that glistens white in the sun, a young man sweating from his bare chest reveals the freshly harvested I’m running my finger through a bucket of stone soil…the depths of a dark shaft.

David Mokushane (not his real name) is Zama Zama, an illegal miner in the western suburbs of Johannesburg.

In Sesotho, he chuckles.

When gold was discovered at Witwatersrand (Whitewater’s Edge) by a Welsh mineralogist in 1852, it sparked a rush to the world’s richest gold deposits, which laid the foundation for Africa’s most industrialized economy. and gave Johannesburg its Zulu name. Destroyed Egor (Golden City) and sparked the Boer War.

Epoch Times photo
A view of the illegal mining equipment used to extract gold dust near the Harmony gold mining operation in Randfontein on August 2, 2022. A sting operation was set up by authorities to crack down on illegal mining syndicates in the area. (Phill Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images)

Since then, conflicts over minerals have continued, currently centered around the existence of Zama Zamasu.. They are usually illegal immigrants from other African countries with a long mining history, such as Lesotho, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Zambia.

About a decade ago, illegal miners began forming gangs and joining organized crime groups, partly to protect themselves from attacks by foreigners and partly to protect their booty, said international organized crime. said Julian Lademeyer, director of the Global Initiative for (GITOC) Eastern and Southern African Observatory.

Rademeyer told The Epoch Times that the Zama Zama gang is armed with weapons including Russian-made AK-47 assault rifles.

For years, the South African government and its police have largely ignored the crisis. Zama Zama, often draped in thick blankets to conceal weapons and hiding his face under a balaclava, sowed terror in mining communities in central and northern South Africa.

But on the night of July 28th, something shocking happened even in a country accustomed to violent crime.

A crew of about 20 was filming a music video at an old mine near the town of Krugersdorp, west of Johannesburg, when dozens of Zama Zama surrounded them and killed the group’s eight women. was sexually assaulted.

As news of the atrocities hit the streets, violent mobs formed in several towns to hunt Zamazama and “undocumented aliens.”

At Kagiso, near Krugersdorp, the inhabitants armed themselves with rocks, pickaxes, hammers, knives, shovels, whatever they could get their hands on. They went on a rampage in the area, setting fire to a foreigner’s hut.

Gauteng Police Commissioner General Elias Mawella told the Epoch Times that some of the suspected illegal miners were stripped naked and violently beaten before being dragged to the police station.

At least one was not so lucky.

Epoch Times photo
The body of an illegal miner lies on the ground after being expelled from an illegal gold mine in the Johannesburg suburb of Benoni, February 18, 2014. (Mujahid Safodien/AFP via Getty Images)

The Epoch Times saw his charred corpse, and a police officer described it as follows:they said he was macwellekwa [local disparaging slang meaning foreigner], Tsotsi (criminal). Then they threw tires at him, poured gasoline on them and set them on fire. “

David Lewis, director of the Corruption Watch Group, told the Epoch Times that years of neglect and corruption by the ruling African National Congress (ANC), particularly its failure to create jobs, have forced South Africa’s unemployed and poor masses to flee abroad. He said he took his anger out on people. immigration.

in South Africa, World’s highest unemployment rateabout 35%.

With the vigilantes outraged, Mawella’s forces launched what they called a “full-scale crackdown” on illegal mining. They arrested 81 suspects in connection with the Krugersdorp atrocities.

During one operation in the Westnaria area, Mawela told reporters, pointing out an area almost completely surrounded by massive mining waste. At each corner of this area he had two shooters to protect the facility from intruders. “

There police arrested more than 50 Zama Zama suspects between the ages of 12 and 16.

Hawks Special Police Force investigator Dave Davis told The Epoch Times that gangs forced boys trafficked to South Africa from neighboring countries to work in narrow tunnels and sometimes even buried them alive.

“Gangs steal gold-bearing materials from various mines, wash it, and finally create an amalgam with mercury. says Davis.

Lademeyer said illegal mining was increasing on an “unprecedented scale” across the continent, especially in mineral-rich countries that have already outlawed it, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Earlier this year, a report from the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris said: Illegal Chinese Mining and Timber Companies “It is rampant in South Kivu province in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, empowering the ruling elite and fostering corruption that impoverishes the community.”

IFRI researchers Justin Mwetaminwa and Thierry Vircoulon have discovered that DRC authorities, including the military, are working with six Chinese companies to illegally mine gold.

they wrote:

“In recent years, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has committed to implementing administrative, social and environmental certification processes for mining activities.

“However, the dominance of the mining sector by predatory partnerships between foreign interests and certain local and national elites renders any attempt to improve mining governance an illusion.

“Despite the mobilization of local communities and the ban on Chinese mining companies from operating in the area, they continue to mine.”

The Chinese company and the Democratic Republic of Congo government did not respond to requests for comment from the Epoch Times.

According to Rademeyer, the reactive policing practiced by most African law enforcement agencies “can never stop” illegal mining because they themselves are not involved in the crime. That’s what I mean.

“The police are deploying special task forces and tactical response teams. It’s strategy.”

GTOC says it is no coincidence that some of the most violent places on earth are areas of illegal mining, including South Kivu.

In 2019, the Goldfields region of the Free State of South Africa had a homicide rate of 55 per 100,000 people, ranking it 15th most violent place on earth, according to an organization funded by the European Union. .

Rademeyer said illegal mining is part of an illegal supply chain with many tentacles.

“Over the last decade, sophisticated syndicates have become involved because, unlike drug smuggling, for example, authorities have not turned to illegal mining. There is an extortion racket attached to it. There is a network of people connected through gold smelters, second-hand jewelers, scrap metal merchants…”

He believes that the majority of African governments and law enforcement agencies do not take the problem of organized crime seriously enough.

“In some cases, the authorities are helping gangsters to extract and smuggle gold, diamonds and other precious minerals. Some people are getting richer,” Rademaier said.

“We have seen police departments almost completely corrupted and openly supporting Zamazama by transporting money in police vehicles. There are reports of the police working as hitmen for the Zamazama gang. It’s so entrenched that it’s incredibly difficult to tackle.”

GITOC investigators traced much of the stolen African gold to the United Arab Emirates, where it was further refined before being sold to contacts around the world, including the United States and Europe.

“Some of it also goes to China and India,” said Rademeier. “This is a highly profitable business operating across borders.

Hundreds of Zamazama can be arrested. They can be deported, but that doesn’t address their wide-ranging cross-border criminal ties and requires a credible and purposeful investigation. “

Darren Taylor