South Africa News

Police continue to haul illegal miners over the coals

As South Africa reels from illegal mining syndicates tormenting vulnerable communities – some parts of the country continue to benefit from illicit mining activities.

The publication’s pre-election coverage shone the spotlight on Mpumalanga where some destitute residents rely on mineral deposits for survival.

Illegal coal mining has become a booming business for communities in Ermelo – a small town where unemployed men and women have invaded abandoned mines.

They use dilapidated mine shafts to go underground to extract coal and sell it to thousands of households across the province.

An abandoned filled with Ermelo’s coal reserves.

This is where impoverished residents go underground to extract coal deposits.

On a cold morning, the publication accompanied a group of men – each carrying a torch, a shovel, and an empty sack – to the mine.

They go down a long flight of stairs on a deserted piece of land that leads them into the belly of the earth.

And once underground – they use picks and shovels to dislodge coal rocks from the earth’s crust.

This 24-year-old resident, who perceives himself as an artisanal miner instead of a zama zama or illegal miner, fills his sack with coal.

“We take a lot of coal every day. Sometimes we fill a link of trucks but sometimes just a few sacks. This is the only way we earn money, once we take it to the surface, you can get any amount of money.”

He carries it on his back and goes back to the surface – where he sells it to households for R70.

The young man is quick to express anger at police who’ve been trying to bring illegal mining to an end.

“There are many people that are addicted and selling addicted drugs, but they don’t get arrested. But the police want to abuse us, who are merely trying to make ends meet through coal mining.”

Ironically, shortly after sharing his sentiment, the police arrive at the abandoned mine.

This sends the illegal miners into a scurry – most making their way into the bushes as the police set their dogs after them.

This is believed to be a regular occurrence and Zethu Hlatshwayo, a member of the national association of artisanal miners’, says police are exercising force against young men who just want to put food on the table.

“They are getting guns, soldiers, and police to come and brutalize our people. For what? For putting bread on the table? R70. This man has just worked for hours for R70 but you want to arrest him. What money do you get? Who is he robbing?”

Unauthorised mining has become widespread in Emerlo.

MSUKALIGWA LOCAL MUNICIPALITY REPLIES

The municipality says it is concerned about abandoned mines and the illegal activities in and around Ermelo.

“Only the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy has the authority to compel the closure and/or rehabilitation [of abandoned mines in the area].

“The unlawful activity in these abandoned mines has been subject of the law enforcement, and several arrests have been made recently,” said Mandla Zwane.

-EWN

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