Mines wage war with zama zamas
Kidnappings and murders mark the battle for gold
Mamikie Motjotji is convinced the disappearance of her partner - a senior gold mine manager from the Free State town of Welkom - is linked to a deadly war between mining companies and illegal miners.
Fernando Mungoi, a shift boss at Harmony Gold's Phakisa mine, went missing on October 30 after he left his Odendaalsrus home for work.
He is one of three Welkom mine managers who have been attacked and either kidnapped or murdered in the town since September last year. Bearing the brunt of the attacks are Harmony Gold and Sibanye Stillwater staff.
The attacks are believed to be linked to increasing security clampdowns by mining companies on illegal miners. Criminal syndicates, in turn, increasingly launch brazen daylight attacks on mine managers and their families.
Mineral resources department spokesperson Ayanda Shezi confirmed that a large number of operating gold mines had reported illegal mining activity.
Mungoi's disappearance follows the kidnapping of Charmaine Botha - whose husband is a Harmony gold storage facility manager - and the murder of Sibanye Stillwater's Beatrix mine's chief safety officer, Shai Mohapi, last Saturday.
Botha was abducted on November 7 and released two days later, after an undisclosed gold ransom was demanded by her kidnappers.
The Hawks in the Free State arrested nine men and seized more than R1m in cash and 21 gold nuggets.
They appeared in the Welkom magistrate's court on Monday on charges of kidnapping, extortion and money laundering.
Two years ago an illegal mining syndicate allegedly tried to bribe a senior Harmony Gold executive with R10m to relax security protocols at the company's facilities.
Harmony spokesperson Sihle Maake confirmed this, saying the risks posed to the safety of employees were intolerable.
Motjotji said that two weeks before Mungoi disappeared, two men held their son at gunpoint in their home.
"They tied him up and ransacked our house."
When they left, they told her son to tell his father they wanted their gold.
Motjotji said that she did not know whether Mungoi had been involved in dealings with illegal miners.
She learnt of his disappearance when an unknown man came to the house looking for Mungoi because he had not arrived at work.
"I immediately tried to call both his numbers but they went straight to voicemail. It was really unusual because he never misses work."
She reported him missing to the police.
Welkom police spokesperson Capt Stephen Thakeng said the search was continuing. Free State police spokesperson Brig Sam Makhele declined to comment on whether Mohapi's murder was linked to illegal miners.
Four men have been arrested for his murder.
Thakeng said illegal mining was "out of control", with boys as young as 15 being recruited as illegal miners.
Mining rights activists say Welkom has an estimated 2,000 illegal miners working underneath the town.
SA, according to research by the Global Institute Against Transnational Organised Crime, has nearly 30,000 illegal gold miners, with the Minerals Council SA estimating R20bn worth of gold, platinum, chrome and diamonds is stolen annually.
With mining companies and the mineral resources department becoming more effective in sealing disused mines and disabling their ventilation shafts, illegal miners or zama zamas are turning to operational mines.
In 2018, Sibanye's budget to further improve access controls including biometric controls was R300m - this was on top of its annual security costs.
Council spokesperson Charmane Russell said the concentration of illegal miners had increased in some areas as mines continued to improve security.
A presentation to parliament by the Hawks and mineral resources department in August last year showed increased incursions into operational mines, particularly Harmony's mines in the Free State and Sibanye's mines in Gauteng.
To counter the booming illegal mining trade, the government has established a task team consisting of the police, the Hawks, State Security Agency, mineral resources department, defence force, Financial Intelligence Centre and mining companies.
Global Institute researcher Alan Martin said its research showed illegal miners were entrenched in operational mines.
"Here you will hit the mother lode, in terms of gold to be found.
"The security clampdowns to stop the illegals obviously means livelihoods are threatened."
Maake said that Harmony's operations had been affected by illegal mining for nearly 20 years.
"There may be collusion between mineworkers, security and contractors. In many instances, employees are threatened."
Sibanye Stillwater spokesperson Henrika Ninham said various incidents against staff focused on personnel who intercepted illegal miners and other criminals.
"Between 2013 and 2017, over 2,700 illegal miners were arrested and 1,099 employees were charged with aiding and abetting illegal miners," she said.
"In 2018, 120 illegal miners were arrested and 130 employees charged. This is significantly lower than last year, mainly because of increased security."..