JOHANNESBURG – EIGHT illegal miners were found murdered in and around a disused mine shaft on the East Rand in Gauteng, South Africa at the weekend in a suspected turf war between Zimbabweans and Basotho.
The men, who are believed to be from Lesotho, were all shot. Their bodies were found in three locations at the mine near Daveyton, Benoni.
Five were found by security guards on Saturday near a mine dump. On Sunday another body was found in a field near the shaft entrance. Two more were found inside the shaft.
On the West Rand on Saturday, Durban Deep locals found the body of an illegal miner who had been shot dead. Three weeks ago a Zimbabwean, Da Silver Mutumbami, was stoned to death at an abandoned mine compound in Durban Deep.
Basothos who saw the killing, said it was in retaliation for the shooting of three of their miners the day before.
Mutumbami, according to his family, was a car guard and not a miner.
Four months ago, 30 illegal miners on the East Rand had to be rescued after they were overpowered by members of a rival gang, who took their gold and sealed them in an abandoned shaft. The site is close to where the police found the dead miners yesterday.
Emergency services on Sunday used a mechanical digger to access a shaft and retrieve the two bodies.
The murders appear to be the latest in a string of deadly attacks in the war between Basotho and Zimbabwean miners vying for control of Gauteng’s disused gold mines.
Until now, the turf war appeared to be confined to the West Rand.
Major-General Oswald Reddy of the Honeydew Police Station on the West Rand, said the recent unrest in the area had led to the police deploying a tactical response team and setting up a satellite station in Durban Deep.
Police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said: “We suspect that the miners were killed in a feud between rival illegal miners trying to steal from each other.”
He said investigations would confirm the exact motive for the killings.
“No arrests have been made in connection with the weekend’s killings. We have increased patrols in the area.”
Meanwhile, Mineral Resources minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi yesterday warned communities to refrain from illegal mining activities.
“It is not only dangerous, but can lead to incidents such as this one,” he said in a statement.
Ramatlhodi said the department would implement measures to ultimately eradicate illegal mining.
“The measures include the sealing off of access holes, and working with law enforcement agencies to apprehend criminals.”