South Africa has between 8000 and 30 000 illegal miners, this is according to the South African Human Rights Commission-aimed at protecting human rights.
The number of abandoned mines have sparked an increase in illegal mining, resulting in violence by gangs to have control of these mines. South Africa is estimated to have 6000 mines that multimillion corporations have abandoned due to shrinking profit margins.
Two months ago, 5 illegal miners were killed in a gang rivalry at Grootvlei mine in Springs, Ekurhuleni. An eye witness account from a security guard on duty that day, said police only arrived on scene the next day to pick up the dead bodies.
This has since resulted in security guards in the area having to take extra precautionary measures when patrolling these abandoned mines in the form of a firearm and bulletproof vest to discourage any attempt to infiltrate the mines.
“There is an increasing level of violence, gang war and intimidation by illegal miners,” the Chamber of Mines said.
According to Sandile Nombeni from the Ekurhuleni Environmental Organization, gangs kidnap people and use them as workers to mine the gold. Police attempted to curb the increasing gang activity by launching an illegal mining task force in September.
“Due to the informal nature of the trenches used by illegal miners, it is too dangerous for the law enforcement agencies to go underground,” said police spokesman Dlamini Lungelo.
Personal accounts from these mines state that close friends have been killed by these gangs, along with dangerous working conditions yet they continue working to earn some form of income for their families.