No government clarity on soldiers deployed to curb illegal mining

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Calls by among others Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi, for soldiers to assist in combating violence ascribed to illegal miners, better known as zama zamas, should not be acceded to.

This is a view of a seasoned military watcher and an opposition politician, who believe such a deployment is a bad idea. African Defence Review (ADR) Director Darren Olivier cautioned “the military is at best a temporary help for raids, it’s not a long-term solution to this or other entrenched crime. It couldn’t stop gang violence, it won’t stop zama zamas and it’s irresponsible of the Chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to give people false hope.”

He was referring to  SANDF Chief General Rudzani Maphwanya, saying, if requested, the military would respond to the call to fight the scourge of crime and zama zamas. “Our soldiers are always ready to deploy. We indicated we are not going to wait, we will prepare and should that call come we will go and flush them out, like rats out of the holes.”

At the beginning of this month, cabinet welcomed the arrest of 194 illegal miners in Johannesburg, nabbed in Riverlea “by a special police unit, supported by the military.” Two inquiries addressed to Brigadier-General Andries Mahapa, SANDF Directorate Corporate Communication (DCC), seeking clarification in this regard remain unanswered.

Earlier this week IOL reported Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi calling for “the army” to be deployed as the province was “under siege”. He was seemingly referring to violence and bloodshed in and around the Riverlea area. Ahead of his call for military intervention, Police Minister Bheki Cele dispatched police in numbers to the area to quell violence and put the brakes on illegal mining.

Asked about deployment of soldiers, Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais, said “as far as he knew” Parliament in the form of Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and the defence oversight committees haven’t been informed of a specific illegal mining deployment.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean it hasn’t – or won’t – happen as there seems to be some sort of loose arrangement with soldiers going in on an almost ad-hoc basis to support police.”

He maintains the zama zama issue is entirely a criminal one and should be dealt with solely by National Police Commissioner Fannie Masemola’s men and women.

“There is no way illegal mining can be seen as a security threat. It’s crime and can never be compared to the violence and looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng two years ago,” that saw the SANDF called out to support police in restoring law and order.