Picture: 123RF/TITHI LUADTHONG
Picture: 123RF/TITHI LUADTHONG

A security officer was shot dead by an armed gang that attacked Harmony Gold's Kalgold operation to steal gold, in the ninth attack of its type in 2019.

The attack by the gang at Harmony's Kalgold processing plant in the North West marks an escalation of criminal activities waged in SA's minerals sector, with rampant illegal mining of gold from old, abandoned mines as well as existing operations.

The gold plants are seen as a relatively easy target because the gold is concentrated, and armed gangs that are adopting military style tactics regard the security as easy to bypass. The gangs often seize mining company staff as hostages to force their way into the plants.

In a single raid, the gang can make off with tens of millions of rand worth of gold instead of eking it out of reefs underground in dangerous conditions, where battles are fought between groups of miners.

The Minerals Council SA said in a statement its members had recorded nine such incidents in 2019 and the death of two people, including the security officer at Kalgold and the security officer at DRDGold's Ergo plant near Johannesburg in October.

The armed gang made off with 17kg of gold worth R12m. Some of that gold has subsequently been recovered.

“Essentially, the industry is under siege. These crimes are hurting SA’s investment and economic prospects and urgent action is required,” council CEO Roger Baxter said.

“The lack of resources and capacity within the SA Police Service to prevent these violent assaults, which are largely driven by organised crime, is a major threat to the industry and places the lives of innocent people at risk.”

There have been other “minor” incidents, but there were nine of a “serious” nature, which is when armed insurgents have gained access to the property and gold plant, killing, wounding, assaulting staff or holding employees hostage, and damaging property, as defined by the council.

Gold mining executives have spoken of their frustration in dealing with these gangs, which use automatic assault rifles like AK-47s and those stolen from SA's army and police services.

Harmony said in a brief statement that a reaction unit supervisor at the Kalgold plant in North West province was shot dead during an armed attack at the mine in the early hours of Friday morning.

Due to the additional security measures, no gold was stolen. As the incident is now the subject of an investigation by the SA Police Service, no further information will be disclosed by the company at this time,” it said.

The council and CEOs from gold, platinum group metals and chrome companies, have met the police minister, Bheki Cele, and mineral resources and energy minister Gwede Mantashe after the DRDGold attack, to discuss how to combat the armed assaults on gold plants as well as illegal mining.

The council has called on Cele to re-establish a special police unit to focus on gold theft and illegal mining.

Gold plants receive concentrate from the mine and process it to a high level of purity before it is sent to Rand Refinery in Germiston for refining and sale.  

seccombea@businesslive.co.za

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