Dra­matic raid on il­le­gal min­ing op­er­a­tion

Zama za­mas take to the hills as cops swoop

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - ILANIT CH­ER­NICK

MATHOLESVILLE was awash with flee­ing zama za­mas when po­lice swooped on the area to clamp down on il­le­gal min­ing that has re­sulted in thou­sands of kilo­litres of wa­ter be­ing wasted.

The min­ers ran into the hills and watched as po­lice, Jo­han­nes­burg Wa­ter of­fi­cials, the Jo­han­nes­burg Roads Agency and City Power de­stroyed the gold re­fin­ery area, which had un­til the day be­fore func­tioned from a stretch of veld be­hind the in­for­mal set­tle­ment yes­ter­day.

Last month, The Star vis­ited the site, where it was dis­cov­ered that thou­sands of il­le­gal min­ers were threat­en­ing the wa­ter sup­ply in Joburg and wast­ing thou­sands of kilo­litres a day by by­pass­ing pre­paid wa­ter me­ters.

Dur­ing yes­ter­day’s op­er­a­tion, the sound of spades hit­ting sand, gush­ing wa­ter and smoke filled the air as City of Joburg of­fi­cials searched for il­le­gal con­nec­tions, ripped them out and burnt makeshift pipes and large buck­ets used to store the stolen wa­ter used for refin­ing gold.

“Our pur­pose to­day is to re­move the il­le­gal wa­ter con­nec­tions, dis­con­nect il­le­gal elec­tric­ity con­nec­tions to the shacks from the RDP houses and put a stop to the il­le­gal min­ing op­er­a­tions here,” said Colonel An­dre Lang of the Rood­e­poort po­lice.

To re­fine the gold, a lot of wa­ter is needed, and this has re­sulted in zama za­mas il­le­gally con­nect­ing makeshift hosepipes to RDP houses and by­pass­ing pre­paid wa­ter me­ters.

Pulling on two of these wa­ter con­nec­tions, a worker from Jo­han­nes­burg Wa­ter man­aged to dis­con­nect one of the main wa­ter sup­plies to the zama za­mas.

“When we came here yes­ter­day the pipes were above the ground, but when we ar­rived this morn­ing they were gone; we re­alised that they must have been buried deeper,” he said.

Lang said the wa­ter from the il­le­gal con­nec­tions ran 24 hours a day be­cause it by­passed the wa­ter me­ters.

“Level 2 wa­ter re­stric­tions are in place but in Matholesville there seems to be no wa­ter re­stric­tions,” he added.

Po­lice and im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cers moved from shack to shack check­ing to see whether the for­eign­ers liv­ing in­side were il­le­gals.

The Star was on hand as sev­eral men and women were ar­rested and taken in for ques­tion­ing.

In one in­stance, City Power work­ers called for po­lice as­sis­tance when those in­side a dwelling re­fused to open the door for them to cut off an il­le­gal con­nec­tion.

Us­ing a lock cut­ter and some force, the of­fi­cer made his way into the shack.

“I’m Venda, I’m Venda,” the man in­side pleaded as he was asked for his doc­u­ments.

“What’s this in Venda?” the of­fi­cer asked, point­ing to his el­bow.

Un­able to an­swer, he was ar­rested on the spot and handed over to im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials.

“Sev­eral women who are be­lieved to be il­le­gals were also ar­rested, and we con­fis­cated at least 24 22-litre buck­ets with gold con­cen­trate in­side,” said Lang.

“Last week, 12 tubes of ex­plo­sives smug­gled in from Zim­babwe were also con­fis­cated and two ar­rests were made,” he added.

Al­though po­lice had in the past con­ducted sim­i­lar op­er­a­tions to shut down the mi­ne­shafts and the re­fin­ery ar­eas, the zama za­mas would re­open the shafts within a few days.

“But this time, we hope that it will be dif­fer­ent. In the past we would just stock­pile all the ma­te­rial, but now we have trucks to take it all away.

“We are also plan­ning to close down the mi­ne­shafts in a few weeks, all the way from Florida to Rood­e­poort,” Lang said as a large trac­tor shovel rode over and broke the ta­bles used in the gold-refin­ing process.

As The Star was leav­ing the scene, a com­mo­tion broke out when an il­le­gal miner was found hid­ing in a garage next to an RDP house. The man ran down the road as sev­eral im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cers and Joburg metro cops gave chase. He was fi­nally cor­nered, ap­pre­hended and placed in im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials’ van.

We hope it will be dif­fer­ent. This time we have trucks to take it all away

PIC­TURE: MATTHEWS BALOYI

CRACK­DOWN: Il­le­gal immigrants were cor­nered, and equip­ment used by zama za­mas con­fis­cated in a swoop on an il­licit min­ing op­er­a­tion in Rood­e­poort yes­ter­day.

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