A South African Policeman fires at protesting miners
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AA) – It is a cold night in Roodepoort, a city in western Johannesburg. Three men dressed in gumboots and helmets move stealthily through the cover of darkness as they approach an abandoned gold mine known as the Durban deep.
They are part of hundreds of illegal miners who risk their lives daily to enter the many abandoned gold mines scattered across Johannesburg, a city founded on gold and known locally as “eGoli,” which means “City of Gold” in Zulu.
They are not scared of the danger of getting trapped underneath the deep mines or being arrested by police.
“I am not proud to be an illegal miner, but I am doing this because of unemployment,” Tyson Mazibuko, 37, a Zimbabwean immigrant, tells Anadolu Agency.
The father of two says he left his country in 2011 due to economic hardships and hoped to find employment in South Africa, despite it having an unemployment rate of 25 percent.
After being unemployed for months, his friends advised him to try illegal mining.
“We work in a group of three to eight people and on a good day, if we are lucky, we can make up to 4,000 rand (around $350),” he said.
Another illegal miner, who only identified himself as Marufu, said it was a hard job.
“Sometimes we stay underground for two to three days and we have to carry food and water to last us that period,” he said.
He said that after getting the gold, they sell it to local dealers in the townships, who then take it to dealers in Johannesburg, where it is finally exported to Dubai.
“It is a very risky job. Some of my colleagues died underground when rocks fell on them as they dug to extract the gold,” he said.
It is illegal in South Africa to start mining without first obtaining a mining license from the government. It is also illegal to enter an abandoned mine shaft, with anyone found there being arrested and prosecuted.
Although some of the abandoned mines have security guards, illegal miners often find a way to bribe some of them and enter the abandoned shafts.
South Africa is one of the world’s largest producers of gold and other precious minerals. There are many closed mine shafts scattered across the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city.
These abandoned mines have attracted many illegal miners from both within the country and the southern Africa region.
– Gang wars
“Last year, we recovered between 40-50 illegal miners who died while inside the abandoned mine shafts,” Robert Mulaudzi, spokesman of the Johannesburg Emergency Services, told Anadolu Agency.
He said many of those who died were mainly trapped underneath the abandoned mines; some were hit by falling rocks and others killed by suspected rival gangs.
“We are told there are groups of gangs who operate at these abandoned mines,” he said, adding that the gangs are mainly made up of immigrants from Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Mozambique. “Each of them, we are told, has a territory they control and if a different group goes there, a fight erupts.”
Mulaudzi recalled that in 2014, when they were called to retrieve a body near an abandoned mine shaft in River-lee near Johannesburg, they heard gun shots being fired inside the mine shaft.
“We had to call the police to help us see what was happening,” he said.
Police in Johannesburg say they patrol around the abandoned mines to apprehend suspected illegal miners and other criminals.
The department of mineral resources has also taken action by sealing off access to some of the abandoned mine shafts and is working with law enforcement agencies to apprehend illegal miners.
According to a 2008 study of the gold sector in South Africa, the country was reported to be losing over $500 million in revenues to the illegal mining industry.
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