Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Escaping Zama Zama

 Mining towns across South Africa have become hostage to a booming but bloody illegal mining economy.

Wealthy kingpins, mainly from neighbouring Lesotho, run criminal syndicates and recruit poverty-stricken workers to go into disused underground shafts to dig for the country’s mineral wealth. Dubbed ‘Zama Zama’, many of them are former mine workers retrenched by the big legal mines and who know the ins and outs of the dangerous but lucrative mining operations.

Paps Lethoko, the chairperson of the National Association of Artisanal Miners (NAAM), says these the Zama Zama spend months in the underground shafts. Their criminal bosses run tuck shops in the dark belly of the earth.

 “The tuck shops sell bread for R200 (normal price around R20), tinned fish for R300 (normally about R25). After months of living in the claustrophobic catacombs under hazardous conditions, the miners end up with about R30,000 (about 1800 USD) and paying more than double the normal amount for food and other necessities to the very bosses who employ them,” he told IPS.

Lethoko says most disused underground shafts in Klerksdorp, a mining town in the North West province, are run by a wealthy politician from Lesotho.

“The Basotho miners are forced to pay the security guards up to R20,000 (about 1700 USD) to enter the mines they are employed at.

They are treated worse than slaves, just as they were by mining companies under apartheid.”

Violence is inevitable. Local communities and artisanal miners, who until recently could not become legal, often get caught in the crossfire of territorial battles between rival Zama Zama gangs. Toto Nzamo, a member of the Tujaliano Community Organisation, says xenophobic tension erupts regularly as Zama Zama violence spills into local communities.

Lethoko says: “We have been trying to form cooperatives and get permits to operate legally, but the mining companies, the media, and even the police lump us with the criminal Zama Zama.”

Nzamo works with artisanal miners and Zama Zama in the Makause informal settlement in Germiston near Johannesburg, said, “They have to form co-ops, identify the land they wish to mine on, and have environmental assessments done. These people have neither the skills nor the access to the kind of money required. A geologist’s report costs at least R82000; where are these poor people supposed to get that kind of money?”

We Want to Be Legal; We're Not Criminals Say SA's Artisanal Miners | Inter Press Service (ipsnews.net)

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