Illegal gold miners too scared to surface as SA police intensify patrols amid COVID-19 lockdown

ILLEGAL gold miners in South Africa are hiding underground, too scared to surface as police on patrol enforcing the COVID-19 lockdown might arrest them, said Reuters citing industry sources.

“They are struggling to get to the surface (to buy food) as police are blocking the entrances and they fear arrest,” a Johannesburg gold miner told Reuters. “At least 100 (zama-zamas) that I know of are trying to earn some money during the lockdown,” he said.

The Minerals Council South Africa estimates seven tons of gold – from total national production of about 135 tons – is lost each year to illegal mining, which is driven by the joblessness and economic hardship that prevail across the country.

Edwin Makwati, a lawyer from the Legal Resources Centre in Johannesburg told Reuters that “artisanal miners depend on mining to feed their families but they are categorised as criminals. Now they have to face the decision: do they die of hunger or risk arrest for violating the COVID-19 regulations?”.

Illegal miners, known as zama-zamas which is a Zulu expression for “taking a chance” – were underground in abandoned or disused mines in Gauteng province when the lockdown began on March 27.

A 2015 report by South Africa’s Human Rights Commission identified 221 open holes and disused shafts alone in Gauteng, which is the most populous of the country’s nine provinces.