the terror of gangs linked to gold, an electoral issue

the terror of gangs linked to gold, an electoral issue
the terror of gangs linked to gold, an electoral issue

Lutho Makheyi, 21, is not at peace. In his slum west of Johannesburg, “you never know when you’re going to get hit by a stray bullet or get raped.” Here, organized crime, linked to gangs controlling clandestine mining, is exploding.

Less than three weeks before the legislative elections on May 29, insecurity is one of the major concerns of South Africans, with endemic unemployment (nearly 33%) and corruption.

In this area dotted with slag heaps, wells and trenches, ten km from the South African economic capital, founded by the gold rush at the end of the 19th century, rival factions clash to recover the remains of gold ore. ‘gold.

“A friend was killed in a shooting. It’s traumatic, you don’t know if you’ll be alive tomorrow,” said the young woman.

Opposite the working-class suburb of Riverlea, the Zamimpilo slum brings together hundreds of tin and wooden shacks. Illegal miners, nicknamed “zama zamas” or “those who still try” in Zulu, live there, alongside families who have been waiting for social housing for years.

One of these minors, covered in sand and with a torch on his head, passes by Nobukho Novokoza, terrified, who is worried about the impact of this violence on her children. “My daughter, who is 17 months old, takes cover when she hears gunshots. She says to me ‘Mom, get down’.”

On voting day, this 38-year-old woman will not make the trip. She doesn’t see the point.

In the center of the camp, a piece of land which serves as a dump, where large pigs eat. Children are playing around.

– Easy promises –

A few months ago, the Minister of Police visited the site after the discovery of several bodies, promising to tackle insecurity.

Since then, “nothing has changed, police officers were deployed for three months but clandestine mining continued… before their eyes”, says Nokuzola Qwayede, 42 years old.

Last week, a police raid was a flop, AFP noted. The “zama zamas”, warned, had fled.

Police arrested thousands of suspects last year, many of them foreigners. And the government says it is “seriously concerned about this scourge”. It seeks to close abandoned wells to limit the risks, going so far as to deploy soldiers, insists a spokesperson for the Ministry of Minerals.

“According to our information, certain politicians are behind these illegal activities,” assures Dale McKinley, specialist researcher at the University of Johannesburg, believing that the problem is not about to disappear.

According to him, some of the illegal miners formerly worked for mining companies which have closed.

– Racket in wide hats –

In Riverlea, Anthony Sherman says he often sees men wearing large hats, in luxury cars parked near the wells, appearing to collect money.

“The real solution would be to dismantle Zamimpilo,” said this religious leader, to “eliminate the incessant fighting” and “secure the population.”

South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world. And the opposition, as the legislative elections approach, blames the ruling ANC for this major failure.

In a dirty and torn jacket, a “zama zama”, who says his name is Thobani, has his body covered in scars, including an open wound on his calf. He resurfaces after a week, to refuel.

“So many people die” in the depths of the then abandoned. “I’m scared,” he confided to AFP. But business is booming. Recently his “group” unearthed gold worth 2,000 euros, which they shared.

They pay money to armed gangs who claim to ensure their security but who, in reality, extort money from them. Some people get killed if they refuse to pay.

Others are also extorted underground by thugs, who leave with the ore, the fruit of their labor.

But “for now, I’m carrying on,” Thobani says, shrugging his shoulders.

zam/ger/emp

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