SANDF soldiers making a mark in anti-zama zama ops

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Soldiers are – again – working alongside police to curb crime with the emphasis this time on illegal mining.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, Commander-in-Chief of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), authorised the “employment” of military force to take on the zama zamas at the end of October with at least 100 arrests reported to date.

A raid on 1 December in the Primrose area of Gauteng province’s Ekurhuleni metro, saw police, soldiers and Department of Home Affairs (DHA) officials all part of a reported day-long operation. Aside from 100 undocumented persons arrested, a “significant number of tools of the trade”, including gas cylinders, generators and explosives were confiscated, the SA Police Service (SAPS) said. Structures reportedly used to process gold-bearing ore were also dismantled.

“Gauteng Provincial Commissioner Lieutenant General Elias Mawela applauded the integrated forces for pulling together. “The presence of the SANDF members and other law enforcement agencies is helping us a great deal as we continue to make inroads in the fight against illegal mining in our province,” Mawela said.

The SAPS reported further success against zama zamas. On 1 December, a multi-disciplinary disruptive operation comprising of the Hawks’ Serious Organised Crime, SANDF, Klerksdorp Illicit Mining Task Team, National Intervention Unit, North West Explosives Unit, K9 and North West Motorcycle Unit led to the arrest of 13 undocumented persons at the disused Wolwerand Gold mine in Klerksdorp after information was received about illegal mining of gold in the area.

Seizures made during the operation include 15 phendukas (informal gold mining machines), eight generators, a water tank, water pipes and other mining paraphernalia. Gold bearing material estimated at R200 000 was also seized. Four informal gold processing plants were destroyed.

The utilisation of soldiers to put the brakes on illegal mining nationwide was welcomed by Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) with co-chair Cyril Xaba saying the Operation Prosper deployment had its “full backing”. This in view of the “brazen nature” of illegal mining and the use of “high calibre weapons” as per a Parliamentary Communication Service statement.

It reports Xaba “welcoming the assurance the SANDF can equal the illegal miners’ firepower”.

The JSCD noted the deployment was unfunded and will require “re-prioritisation” in the Department of Defence (DoD) budget, a concern made stronger by “recent baseline reductions” affecting all government departments.

The zama zama Op Prosper deployment comes with an estimated cost of more than R492 million with just over half (R256 651 296) to pay the salaries of the three thousand soldiers deployed until 28 April next year.

Meanwhile, n response to a letter from an unnamed trade union to the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV), outgoing Director SANDF Directorate Corporate Communication (DCC), Brigadier General Andries Mahapa, bemoans a rations complaint as “an attempt to tarnish the image of the SANDF”. It appears the labour organisation took umbrage to the non-availability of rations and S&T (subsistence and travel) allowances.

Both, according to Mahapa, have been supplied to soldiers deployed in Sector 3 (Alexander Bay in the Northern Cape Province). “Soldiers’ logistical sustainment has been adequately planned for and distributed as per the planning process,” the statement reads in part.

The first deployment of soldiers to assist police under the Operation Prosper umbrella was in the Western Cape Province in 2019. That time around soldiers provided perimeter security for police in anti-gang operations on the Cape Flats.