Anti-illegal mining ops net over four thousand suspects

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The four-month period from December to March saw police assisted by, among others, soldiers from the SA Army Light Modern Brigade (LMB), arrest 4 774 suspects for involvement in illegal mining across seven of South Africa’s nine provinces.

Most arrests were made in Limpopo (1 230), followed by Free State (1 092), Gauteng (679), North West (649), Northern Cape (619), Mpumalanga (432) and KwaZulu-Natal a distant seventh on 74.

An SA Police Service (SAPS) update on Operation Vala Umgodi (loosely translated as “plug the hole”) on 7 May has it 7 130 uncut diamonds valued at R32 million were confiscated during the same period, along with R4 million in cash, by teams comprising police, soldiers and officials from the departments of Home Affairs and Mineral Resources and Energy. The money came from all nine provinces, while what police term “disruptive operations” are underway in seven South African provinces.

A further indication of the size of this particular criminal enterprise is the seizure of equipment used to bring ore-bearing material, precious and semi-precious minerals to the surface. Thirty-three tractor-loader-backhoes along with 78 vehicles and 79 trucks languish in police compounds following confiscation. The latest SAPS update does not specify types of vehicles and trucks, but an indication comes from an April report on one Limpopo operation where 18 side tipper trucks were seized in the Sekhukhune district.

Firearms are part and parcel of illegal mining with police confiscating 146 – no types or calibre specifications given – along with 4 518 rounds of ammunition over the last four months.

SAPS reports a major success was tracing “an illicit mining kingpin” to Soweto. The operation resulted in him, identified as “a Lesotho national linked to at least 29 illegal mining related murders”, being shot and killed.

Vala Umgodi started operations in December 2023 and no end date has been set, as far as can be ascertained. The deployment of soldiers and, in at least one instance, the SA Air Force (SAAF) by way of an Agusta A109 light utility helicopter, was set to finish on 28 April as per the Presidential authorisation for three thousand soldiers to boost police efforts to curb the illegal activities of the zama zamas.