Gauteng calls for deployment of SANDF against illegal miners

2237

The Gauteng Provincial Legislature’s Portfolio Committee on Community Safety says it will be writing to President Cyril Ramaphosa and Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi to consider the deployment of South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers in the province “to end the scourge of illegal mining in the province once and for all”.

This after the discovery of five bodies – suspected to be illegal miners – were found shot in Riverlea over the weekend, following reports of a gun battle between illegal miners.

Furthermore, last month a gas leak led to the deaths of 17 people in the Boksburg area.

In a statement, the committee said illegal mining is causing “escalating lawlessness and mayhem” in the province.

“The Committee views illegal mining as a form of economic sabotage beyond just tax evasion, but also illicit financial flows with a devastating negative effect on the already struggling South African economy. It is also critical to establish the alleged involvement of Mining companies in illegal mining and their contribution to bringing an end to this.

“The Committee further calls upon the Department of Mineral Resources to assist in holding Mining companies that previously owned these mines legally obligated and accountable in taking full responsibility of rehabilitating them,” the statement read.

According to the committee, it will also be calling leaders in the province before it to explain what measures are being explored to curb the illegal scourge.

“The Committee has therefore resolved to call on the Gauteng MEC for Community Safety, together with the Provincial Police Commissioner, to appear before it and give an account on what measures are being put in place to end illegal mining in the province.

“These measures must have clear action plans and timelines, as the people of Gauteng can no longer afford to live in fear due to the so called Zama Zamas who are in their majority illegal foreign nationals. The safety of citizens should be a priority and we cannot allow lawlessness to continue unabated,” the statement read.

Police Minister General Bheki Cele on Monday assured Riverlea that police are mobilising all their resources and specialised units to restore law and order in the area, following a visit to the community.

Cele said police are constantly devising strategies and operational plans to combat illegal mining operations in various provinces. Between 1 April 2022 and 31 March 2023, 1 199 illegal miners were arrested, including 100 South Africans, 1 24 Zimbabweans, 232 Basotho nationals from Lesotho and 79 Mozambicans.

A total of R1.8 million, 9 991 rounds of ammunition and various vehicles and machinery used in mining were seized, amongst other items.

Cele said specialised units will be deployed to the area.

“These specialised units are being brought in to ensure we apprehend these illegal miners and put a stop to these illegal operations.

“Our focus is to ensure law and order is restored in this area. We cannot have a situation where communities live in fear. We are going to deal decisively with these criminals,” said Cele.

Since May 2022, the South African Police Service (SAPS) ensured the establishment of the Economic Infrastructure Task Teams (EITT). Twenty teams have been set up in hotspot areas to combat illegal mining, prevent damage to critical and essential infrastructure, as well as extortion on construction sites.

There have been repeated calls for the SANDF to be deployed to combat illegal miners. Last month Lesufi said deploying the military would be difficult as the President, opposition parties, and committees need to be consulted first. President Cyril Ramaphosa would have to gazette the deployment and consult opposition parties in the legislature.

Soldiers deployed must be within an appropriate budget, and a committee must meet to discuss the possibility.

Lesufi suggested that while calling for the deployment of the SANDF “is correct”, a better approach may be empowering the police. “We need to strengthen the firepower of our police force, and the police must be given the necessary powers to protect society without any constraints,” he said.

The SANDF is already thinly stretched with deployments internally and externally, with internal deployments seeing nearly 900 soldiers protecting Eskom power facilities under Operation Prosper, at a cost of R146 million for six months (April to October).

Other deployments by the underfunded SANDF include to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, and along the country’s borders.

Last year Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise said the destruction, theft and sabotage of electricity and rail infrastructure is a threat to South Africa and its economy and consequently this may see the SANDF deployed to safeguard it.

Earlier this year she warned that the defence force is “becoming progressively more unsustainable in terms of the declining defence baseline allocation” and South Africa must decide on the kind of defence force it wants and can afford.