Case against 87 alleged illegal miners postponed

  • Eighty-seven men arrested after a deadly gun battle in October 2021 returned to court on Friday to face illegal mining, murder, attempted murder and robbery charges. 
  • Six people died in the battle that was triggered when they tried to blow up a shaft entrance that was blocked to prevent the miners' food and water teams from entering. 
  • Hundreds of miners poured out of the shafts, which resulted in the battle between about 100 miners and the authorities.

The 87 men arrested after a bloody battle between alleged illegal miners and police and private security guards in October 2021 have appeared in court again. 

National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Henry Mamothame said so many people had to fit into the Stilfontein Regional Court on Friday that they were brought in in groups of 20. 

With all but a few men from nearby Lesotho and the rest from Mozambique, the interpreter told each group their case would be postponed to 10 June. They were led away, and the next group was brought before the magistrate.

Mamothame said the topic of the consultation between the lawyers and the 87 men was unclear, but the State was open to a plea bargain for a conviction that equalled the crime. 

READ | Pupil jumps on teacher's back during chaotic classroom brawl in Johannesburg

The men were arrested after a bloody gun battle between hundreds of miners and their support services and a Special Task Force assisted by Hawks Organised Crime Unit in the North West, as well as private security guards on 20 October 2021. 

The attack came after a group forcefully tried to get into shaft 2 in Orkney to take food to alleged illegal miners working underground.

China African Precious Metal owns the shaft.

Initially, it was part of the Anglo American Vaal Reefs shafts 1 to 7 portfolio. They changed hands several times as the dynamics of mine ownership shifted to new ownerships.

China African Precious Metal then bought the Orkney gold operations from Pamodzi. 

During a Mining Indaba in 2019, Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe said the gold sector lost more than R70 billion per year in revenue through smuggling. 


The chrome, coal and diamond sectors were also affected, and he added the surrounding communities suffered due to environmental degradation, health risks, and violence between rival illegal miners.

The death toll in the battles has been steep.      

Fellow miners are known to swaddle dead miners and leave an identifying tag on them to ensure they are taken back to their families in Lesotho for a proper burial.

Economies associated with the mines support them with food and water deliveries, as they work long hours in the mines, sometimes with rudimentary tools.

There have also been reports they may also be part of a gang which protects the interests of their fellow Mosotho in threatening situations.
Read more about illegal mining in South Africa here

- City Press reported on a highly militarised sting which involved helicopters and specialists shimming down ropes to catch illegal chrome miners at the beginning of May. Previous attempts to stop the illegal mining failed because residents of the surrounding community were paid to let the miners know if the police were comiing. Miners sped through closed gates, but helicopters corralled them into position for arrests. The mine used hired professional machinery. 

- Four decomposed bodies were found in a North West mine shaft, and 77 were arrested in April. They outed themselves because they were starving. Sixty are from Lesotho, 13 from Mozambique, and four are Zimbabwean nationals.

- Fifteen bodies were recovered from a mine in Primrose, east of Johannesburg in March. 

In an interview with the Lesotho Times, Lesotho Consul General Selimo Thabane, attributed illegal mining and deaths to economic problems in Lesotho, which led to people travelling to South Africa for a livelihood. 

"Basotho are flocking into South Africa in large numbers in search of greener pastures. It is high time the government comes up with a road map that addresses unemployment," he told the publication.

Meanwhile, the 87 accused will remain in custody because they were found to have entered South Africa illegally. 

The charges they face include six counts of murder; robbery with aggravating circumstances; conspiracy to commit robbery; illegal mining; possession of automatic firearms; attempted murder and contravening the Immigration Act.

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