Illegal mining costs sector R5bn/year
Welkom - Illegal mining activities cost the mining industry around R5bn a year, national police commissioner General Bheki Cele said on Thursday.
"It is broader than you think," Cele told journalists after an underground excursion near Welkom.
Arriving in Welkom by helicopter just before noon, Cele was taken to the Masinong shaft, a Harmony mine, where he was briefed by mine staff.
Journalists were not allowed at the briefing and were prohibited by police and mine security from attending proceedings.
An hour later, Cele, dressed in white overalls, a mine hardhat and a belt with a lamp, said the visit was to "see (for) himself" what was happening.
The police chief said the level of organisation in illegal mining activities was worrying.
"It's organised, because by the time police get underground people know police are coming," said Cele, adding that police members were part of the organised crime syndicates.
Reversing the situation
Cele said the time would come when police would start winning the battle against illegal mining and "reverse" the situation.
Police were also addressing the criminal activities at a national level while the matter was receiving attention within the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
"They do not sell (the gold dust) to spaza shops."
The police chief praised the working relationship between police and mining companies in addressing the underground crimes.
"We cannot send in ordinary policemen to do the job, we use specialised units..."
A crime prevention operation at the mine before Cele's visit unearthed two illegal miners and explosives.
Hawks spokesperson Major General Jacob Tsumane told journalists the special task team appointed earlier to investigate illegal mining in the Free State Goldfield's region was achieving successes but he did not give much detail.
He said many of the illegal miners were Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwean citizens, aged between 18 and 50.
"Many are trafficked into the Welkom area to work underground."
Cele described his experience underground, believed to be around 2km deep, as "good" and acknowledged that a "Chile experience had hit his mind" on the way down.
Thirty-three Chilean miners made world headlines recently when they were rescued after they had been trapped for 64 days underground.