60 Basotho arrested in SA clampdown on illegal mining

Lesotho Times
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. . . four decomposing bodies recovered at the North West mine

Staff Reporters

SIXTY Lesotho nationals have been arrested by South African police for engaging in illegal mining activities at Orkney Mine in the North West province.

The 60 are part of a wider group of 77 foreign nationals who were arrested in what the South African Police Service (SAPS) says is a clamp-down on illegal mining in the neighbouring country.

In a statement, SAPS said the 77 who included 13 Mozambicans and four Zimbabweans, were arrested between 14 and 18 April 2022 at Orkney Mine.

They were arrested after they appealed to the mine management for assistance to be rescued out of one of the mine shafts — in which they had been trapped — as they were now starving. When they surfaced from the shaft, the illegal miners came up with four decomposing bodies of their colleagues.

“As part of clamping down on illegal mining, a multi-disciplinary team… rescued…and ultimately apprehended 77 illegal miners between 14 April and 18 April 2022,” SAPS said.

“The operation follows a request to the mine management by the illegal miners to be assisted to get out of the mine shaft as they were starving. During the operation which was conducted at Shaft 5 in Orkney, four decomposed bodies were brought up by the illegal miners on 15 April 2022. Of the 77 arrested illegal miners who were all medically examined, 60 are from Lesotho, 13 from Mozambique and four are Zimbabwean nationals. Meanwhile, a formal identification process of the four bodies is underway.

“The arrested illegal miners are expected to appear before the Orkney Magistrates’ Court, facing charges of trespassing, illegal mining and contravention of Section 49(1)(a) of the Immigration Act, 2002.”

SAPS added that the team which rescued and arrested the illegal miners comprised of police detectives, the mine’s rescue team as well as a taskforce set up to combat illegal mining activities in the area which falls under the Dr Kenneth Kaunda District Municipality.

The team was led by one Major General Suzette Pretorius and it worked throughout the Easter weekend to rescue the illegal miners “and ensure that they are arrested to face the full might of the law”.

Illegal miners have been getting trapped and dying in South Africa’s mines over the past two decades since the dawn of majority rule in 1994.

As recently as June 2021, the bodies of 11 Lesotho nationals were discovered at Orkney Mine. They were among 20 corpses that were found wrapped in grain bags outside the mine. They were believed to have died in an underground mining accident.

At the time, North West premier, Job Mokgoro, said they were worried by the escalation of illegal mining activities particularly by foreign nationals.

“The situation calls for drastic deliberate action that should happen almost immediately.

“We have to strengthen our integrated approach towards dealing with illegal mining. Our efforts must be more sustainable and long lasting in terms of effectiveness. Going forward we will pull all our resources together to combat, counter and eradicate this menace completely,” Mr Mokgoro said.

Lesotho’s Consul General, Selimo Thabane, said the illegal mining and consequent deaths were attributable to the economic challenges in Lesotho which had forced many people to trek to South Africa in search of opportunities to sustain their livelihoods.

He called on the Lesotho government to urgently find ways of growing the economy to create jobs to reduce the number of people flocking to South Africa and ending up as illegal miners.

“Basotho are flocking into South Africa in large numbers in search of greener pastures. It is high time the government comes up with a roadmap that addresses unemployment.

“I believe that job creation at home will go a long way in reducing the number of people who come to South Africa illegally. The main reason why people are going to South Africa is because of unemployment. It is unfortunate that these accidents have been recurring for decades now. We have to come up with ways of addressing the problem effectively. It is time we look at long-term solutions in order to curb these avoidable deaths,” Mr Thabane said.

The illegal miners, also known as zama zamas, have also been linked to rival Famo gangs who often fight for supremacy in Lesotho. The gangs have also taken their deadly fights wars into South Africa. One such fight is said to have broken out in Benoni in March 2017 and resulted in the deaths of 14 Basotho.

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