Harmony decries illicit mining

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Harmony Gold Mines security manager, Ernie van Rensburg

By ‘Majirata Latela

Harmony Gold mine in Welkom, South Africa, says it is ‘deeply perturbed’ by illegal mining practices which it claims negatively affect the social fabric of the mining communities.

According to the mine, some of its employees are alleged to dip their hands into allowing illegal miners to access mine shafts. It claims that some of its workers supply food and other items to the illegal diggers.

According to the security manager at Harmony Gold Mines in Free State, Ernie van Rensburg, illicit miners “do not only illegally mine gold from unused mine shafts but also threaten violence against the mine’s employees.”

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He said there have been reports about the presence of illegal miners being spotted in some shafts and threaten violence against their employees.

He said according to the study conducted by the mine and the South African Police Service (SAPS),  illegal mining attracted possession of illegal firearms which are used in killings. The practice, he added, also bred extortion, money laundering, theft of gold processing equipment, prostitution, human trafficking and substance abuse.

He suggested that a spike in criminal activities has been experienced. Among them, area murder, attempted murder, burglary, fraud and money laundering as well as illegal immigration.

Van Rensburg further mentioned the mine with the assistance of the SAPS are running an operation meant to quell illegal mining around Welkom. The operation is called, ‘Operation Knock out’.

While giving the report for the period July 1 2019 to October 31 2021, Van Rensburg said during the operation the police arrested 3 882 perpetrators linked to illegal mining. Of the 3 882 arrests, 1 104 were illegal miners working on the mine surface while 263 are illegal miners from underground. About 1 765 illegal miners working outside Welkom town were also arrested during the operation.

Furthermore, 137 illegal miners were also arrested for possession of unregistered firearms. On all the arrests made, there were 1 412 Lesotho nationals. The department of home affairs in Welkom deported 1 164 Lesotho nationals.

On the other hand, Van Rensburg said the research showed that illegal mining on abandoned shafts was being carried out by Lesotho nationals recruited from the kingdom.

The syndicate, according to the research, targets poor and vulnerable communities and make them cross illegally into South Africa.

“Most of the illegal firearms are found underground during a disruptive operation underground.

 “Syndicate leaders pay ‘Marashian’ known as Fenene, Matlama and Terene some money. These groups come from Lesotho. These gangs are meant to protect the areas where they operate. The guns are stolen in Lesotho and South Africa,

“Their armed protection is aimed at countering SAPS and security operatives. There is also a group of hit men who most of them are Lesotho citizens who are in the payroll of the syndicate leaders. The hit men offer services of killing the leaders’ opponents,” he explained.

Van Rensburg also commented on a scandal in which 75 firearms were stolen at Mafeteng police station recently. He was worried that the weapons could be sold to illegal miners.

Police Commissioner, Holomo Molibeli, said during a press conference in Maseru this week that police have arrested five suspects who are in custody helping the investigators about the incident.

He said the police have leads as to the whereabouts of the weapons.

Seven of the guns have been recovered.

Those arrested are three police officers, a Mosotho man and a Chinese businessman residing in Mafeteng.

Molibeli said mining companies were threatened by the theft given that illegal mining syndicates used unlicensed and stolen weapons.

 “We are currently working on confiscating the guns together with SAPS. Working together with SAPS and the security of the mines, we can be able to bring to an end illegal mining. We expect the mines to rehabilitate abandoned mine shafts,” Molibeli said.