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Four Basotho gunned down in Polokwane

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…as illegal miners’ turf wars escalate

Mohalenyane Phakela

FOUR Lesotho nationals have been gunned down in Westenburg, Polokwane, in what South African Police Service (SAPS) say could been a turf war between rival illegal mining gangs.

In a recent statement, the SAPS said police in Limpopo province had received a tipoff of a shootout which had occurred at Roedepoort Farm in Polokwane.  They subsequently discovered four corpses of people believed to be illegal miners. All four were confirmed to be Basotho.

“The police in Westenburg have opened cases of murder after the bodies of four men, believed to be illegal miners, were found at different spots in the bushes on the Roedepoort Farm on 26 and 27 September 2022,” SAPS said in its statement.

“The police had received information on 26 September 2022 about an incident in which suspected illegal miners were shot dead by unknown suspects. The Provincial Commissioner of Police in Limpopo, Lieutenant-General (Lt-Gen) Thembi Hadebe, immediately ordered a full-scale mobilisation of relevant resources, including a police helicopter to hunt down the suspects and also search for the victims.

“On arrival at the said farm (on 26 September), they found the body of a man lying next to the pathway. He was later identified as a 37-year-old man from Lesotho. The search continued until it was later called off for the night. The operatives resumed the search operation the next morning and three more bodies were found in the area next to the illegal mining site. It appears they were all shot at whilst fleeing from the attackers. The three are also Lesotho nationals.”

The SAPS statement also quotes Lt-Gen Hadebe appealing to the local community to assist the police with information that could lead to the arrest of the suspects.

“I urge community members to assist the police in the investigation of these killings by providing valuable information that can lead to the arrest of the suspects.

“The motive for the incident is unknown at this stage but conflict amongst illegal miners (Zama-Zamas) cannot be ruled out,” Lt-Gen Hadebe said.

Three weeks ago, 10 illegal miners were killed in violent clashes over what the SAPS said was shrinking space to conduct their illegal activities in the Gauteng province.

Over the years, illegal miners mostly from Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, have developed a fearsome reputation for gang-related killings and other serious crimes in South Africa.

Apart from fighting deadly turf wars among themselves, the illegal miners, popularly known as Zama-Zamas, have often been blamed for rampant murders, rape, armed robberies and other violent crimes in Gauteng and other parts of South Africa.

Meanwhile, the Gauteng police have arrested 11 suspected illegal miners and confiscated tools which are believed to be used for illegal mining.

In a statement, SAPS said the 11 were arrested on 23 September.

“In a continued effort to both disrupt and eradicate illegal mining activities in the Johannesburg District policing precinct, police have yet again arrested 11 illegal miners and recovered a firearm and ammunition in Mathole’s Ville, Roodepoort.

“All 11 suspects will be processed by immigration officers from Department of Home Affairs as primary investigations suggest that the suspects are undocumented foreign nationals.

“Police further recovered the following equipment used for illegal mining operations, namely, 164 steel balls, stampers, garden spades, buckets, electric motors, generators, stamper pots, gas cylinders, cutting torches and wheel barrows amongst others.

“All suspects are expected to appear before the Roodepoort Magistrates’ court soon,” SAPS said.