Zama zamas: Police are zooming in on ‘big guns’, says Bheki Cele
Seven properties and 51 cars confiscated as Special Investigating Unit and police swoop on suspected high-living kingpins of illegal mining
Police minister Bheki Cele says the justice, crime prevention and security cluster is not only targeting illegal mining’s foot soldiers but has shifted its focus to the big guns who benefit from the proceeds of this illegal activity.
Cele said nine “middle class” suspects were arrested in an illegal mining crackdown and the Hawks are probing more who live the high life in Sandton and Dubai.
“We have moved up to the middle level. We have arrested nine people who are middle class of some form in the zama zamas, and those people own beautiful houses,” Cele said.
“When we visited their houses in Carletonville, all their furniture is imported — [It’s] Italian furniture. In the yard, there are a few Lamborghinis parked. Then you realise these are the big guns.”
Cele said the Special Investigating Unit has attached 51 of the nine’s cars and seven properties valued at altogether R38m. Six of them are foreign nationals and three are South African. Their cases are still in court, he said.
Cele was addressing journalists as a member of the ANC’s peace and security subcommittee on the sidelines of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) meeting that was due to wrap up on Monday.
He said that on the instruction of President Cyril Ramaphosa, who wants a concerted effort to deal with the scourge, various government departments including the police, state security, home affairs and defence are working on an integrated approach.
He said there have been complaints that law enforcement is dealing only with the “lower level” illegal miners. While conceding that the major focus has been on “those people that you see dirty and dusted”, the Hawks are now probing “big guns”.
Cele said the courts were also getting tougher after 18 illegal miners arrested in North West were recently given six-month jail sentences or R12,000 bail. Generally, the zama zamas are released on a warning, he said.
In the Northern Cape, the police arrested 867 suspects who were all foreign nationals but there was not enough capacity to deport them. The department of home affairs will be getting more resources to deal with this issue, said Cele.
Illegal mining is prevalent in six provinces: Gauteng, Free State, North West, Northern Cape, Mpumalanga and Limpopo. It is also a crime largely committed by foreign nationals who are in the country illegally.
Cele said after Ramaphosa and Lesotho prime minister Samuel Matekane’s talks last month, there have been follow-up engagements between him and home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi and their Lesotho counterparts to compare notes on dealing with illegal migration.
The government is also dealing with the takeover of mines, where people operate mines without licences, he said.
During a crackdown at a mine in North West three weeks ago, the state confiscated trucks and arrested the owner. At another mine in Limpopo, the state confiscated machinery and equipment worth about R16m, he said.
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