HRC: Zama Zamas colluding with legit companies

The illegally mined gold is exported overseas through the 'hawala system'.

Illegal miners commly known as Zama Zamas travel deep underground each day. Picture: Screengrab/CNN

JOHANNESBURG - The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) says its study on illegal mining has found that legitimate companies are colluding with so-called _ Zama Zamas_ and some illegally mined gold, finds its way into the mainstream market.

The SAHRC on Thursday released the results of its survey which shows that illegal mining activity has been confirmed in all the provinces except the eastern and Western Cape.

The most commonly mined minerals are gold and diamonds.

Commissioner Janet Love said, "So the supply chain to get to the central refinery clearly must have some gaps within it if it is finding its way into the formal refinery process."

The commission's mining consultant Dr Koos Pretorius says companies should make use of gold fingerprinting to track illegally mined gold.

"We believe that some gold finger printing technology which is available should be used to check which mining companies are introducing illegal mine products so that ringer prints can be picked up."

Meanwhile, the SAHRC has warned that placing ageing and unprofitable mine shafts under maintenance and care makes them vulnerable to illegal mining.

It says this practice is increasing because retrenched workers aren't given access to skills development.

In Gauteng police say at least 400 incidents of illegal mining violence were reported between 2013 and last year.

The commission's mining consultant Pretorius says most of the foreign nationals who were recruited into the SA mining industry end up becoming Zama Zamas.

"A person recruited from Mozambique to come and work here, once he gets laid off, the compensation fund is not applicable to that person. So that person either goes back to Mozambique or he stays here hoping to find better employment, better life conditions and ends up being zama-zama."

The commission heard that the recruitment process in large scale mining operations very consciously recruits a percentage of miners from neighbouring countries, particularly where there are people with experience in underground mining.

According to the SAHRC study, Gauteng is the most affected province, followed by Free State and then Mpumalanga.

As opposed to underground illegal mining activities, surface illegal mining has more to do with turf war amongst factions of Zama Zamas, which in most cases, results in violence and killings.

Limpopo and North West's illegal mining has a propensity for theft of mine infrastructure such as theft of copper wire and cables.

The commission says there is now the involvement of crime and big business criminal syndicates with regards to illegal mining.

In Gauteng alone, 221 holes and open shafts have been identified, with the government being able to close between 130 and 150 of those so far.

Closing of these holes and open shafts involves sealing them with concrete slabs, covering them with rubble, and pumping concrete down the hole.

But it showed illegal miners will still find another hole to enter.

The illegally mined gold is exported to, among others, Britain, China and Japan through a system known as the "hawala system".