From gold to dust: How a once-thriving community was reduced to ruin

Zama-zamas drive off with a load of gold ore. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/City Press
Zama-zamas drive off with a load of gold ore. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/City Press

It’s a neglected village mine with dilapidated buildings. The only people working are balaclava-covered zama-zamas who dig up anything and everything

A once-thriving mining community which had all the bells and whistles of a high-end residential estate has been reduced to a shameful shadow of its former self and community members are laying the blame partly on the government for allegedly abandoning it.

At its peak Blyvooruitzicht mine in Carletonville boasted the best facilities which many mining villages envied: A golf course, a recreational centre, a stadium, swimming pools, a school, a hospital, workshops and laboratories.

However, following several changes of ownership, it has become a neglected village mine with dilapidated buildings and almost all the streets lined with dug-up trenches by those looking for copper.

The only people who seem to be doing any work are wearing balaclavas despite the scorching sun.

These, we are told, are zama-zamas – illegal miners – digging up anything and everything they can sell.

A group of zama-zamas strip the liquidated mine of every little valuable piece of copper, metal and gold soil they can get their hands on in Blyvooruitzicht gold mine in Carletonsville. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/City Press

Though they are generally called zama-zamas, they are involved in more than just illegal mining.

They strip any infrastructure on site to sell as scrap metal or recycling.

We could see all of this happening when City Press visited the area earlier in this week, accompanied by members of a local committee set up to deal with the former mine workers’ woes and mine security.

What we found was a startling reality of what has become of the mine which is now under liquidation.

The community, made up of roughly 900 households, has been left in limbo since the mine was put under liquidation in 2013.

So comfortable are the illegal miners who have taken up residence in the area that they even have tractor loader backhoe excavators on site.

At another area informal hawkers have set up shop in a former plant, the building reduced to rubble to sell to the working illegal miners.


Johannes Tala, the chairperson of the community committee dealing with the retrenched workers’ matters, said at least 40 people had been killed since zama-zamas took over the area three years ago.

“This entire village was owned by the mine and we, as employees, have been staying here for years. But now the mine has shut down and we have nowhere to go because we never got payouts when the mine went under liquidation,” Tala said.

He said that when the community reports the matter to the police, the police do come but merely to escort the zama-zamas out. “The police will come and just escort them with their full trucks and bakkies full of metals and copper,” said Tala.

Of the three underground shafts that had anchored the financial viability of the area at its peak, only a single shaft was bought for operation from the liquidator, Leigh Roering of Harvard Corporate Rescue Services.

Joseph Rammusa, spokesperson for the committee, said there was an attempt by another company to buy the residential area but that fell apart after the potential buyer insisted that the residents pay R3 500 rent.


“We don’t have money because even the provident fund payouts some of us got when the mine closed was very little because Village Main Reef did not pay the monies they were deducting from us.

“We told the developer that we are not paying and we are not going anywhere,” he said, adding that there seemed to be a close relationship between the company and the liquidator as it was later offered other assets for sale despite an allegedly better proposal on the table by former miners.

One of the zama-zamas at the Blyvooruitzicht gold mine in Carletonville. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/City Press

Rammusa said the community did not pay for water because the municipality claims it is owed more than R200 million by the previous owners.

Two of the few buildings that remain largely untouched are a clinic that serves mostly the zama-zama community and a church building, owned by the Dutch Reformed Church, which feeds children from the community but depends on handouts and donations.

“This church is very helpful because, besides feeding all the kids around here, we hold our community meetings there because there is no other venue. For feeding the kids each household donates R2 and they cater only for kids,” Rammusa said.

Here in Skomplaas even the taxis don’t come here after 5pm, never mind the police.

Neighbouring what was once a stadium facility, is a section of the village called Skomplaas which used to have a mine-owned hospital and a government-owned school.

The hospital has been stripped and its bricks stolen.

The school, Ekuphakameni Primary, has been abandoned by the government allegedly because the violent fights among the illegal miners’ gangs were endangering the lives of pupils and staff.

“Here in Skomplaas even the taxis don’t come here after 5pm, never mind the police. I used to live here, my house was in this area and I was chased out,” Tala said.

While at Skomplaas, a frail-looking women, who seemingly lives in the area and is a partner of one of the illegal miners, approached us.

“Are you guys registering names for grants and food?” she asked in fluent Sesotho.

Unemployed youth have resorted to copper cable theft. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/City Press

Another section of the village, Doornfontein, which is a few kilometres away but was also owned by the same mine, looked as if it have been better taken care of.

“Doornfontein is fortunate because zama-zamas have not destroyed and taken over yet.

“The main problem is a clearance certificate from the municipality because there’s a company that wants to buy this village [Doornfontein] from the liquidator, but the municipality claims all these mine villages combined owe it R600 million for rates and taxes and the money was accumulated from more than a decade ago,” Tala said.

The municipality, said the committee, wants the prospective buyer of Doornfontein to settle the R600 million bill first.

“The mayor said if you lobola her child you have to put something on the table,” Tala said, adding that the mayor openly told the committee that the prospective buyer did not even bother to “take her out to a Spur restaurant”.

Though the area has municipality councillors who stay within the community, the committee claims its pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

Attempts to get hold of the municipality were fruitless.

Though the community has been told that Blyvoor Gold is making efforts to restart mining and has spent a fortune, countless efforts to get the company’s side of the story were fruitless and the company’s spokesperson, Wels Sempe, did not respond to questions.

The municipality ignored calls for comment.

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