7 March 2018

South Africa: Informal Gold Miner Shot Dead and Eight Arrested

An informal gold miner was shot dead on Saturday and eight others were arrested by security guards at a mine in Benoni. The arrested, who are between the ages of 19 and 36, appeared in the Benoni Magistrate Court on Monday and Tuesday charged with illegal possession of gold.

The group of informal gold miners (known as gwejas) had been operating near Modderbee prison in Benoni for two months, but on Saturday they were confronted by armed mine security guards.

Two of the miners who escaped that night told GroundUp their version of events. With bags full of soil particles on their backs, the young men say they ran for their lives when they heard gunshots. More Ngondi, 21, drew a knife and was shot dead.

"I'm lucky to be alive today. A gunshot hit a torch instead of my head. Otherwise, I would have been killed," one of the miners told GroundUp. He hid in bush nearby with three others until they could safely escape.

Another one of the miners who escaped that night alleges that mine security had given them access to the mine in exchange for R500 from each of the group as well as some cellphones.

"We always pay some of the security guards to go in, but other thick headed ones tend to backstab us. Because of greed, they tend to want the gold particles as well [as the bribe]," he said.

He thinks the only reason the police became involved was because Ngondi was killed. Otherwise, the guards would have taken the gold and no one would have been the wiser.

The miners were friends and came from poverty-stricken, rural Chimanimani in Zimbabwe bordering on the Mozambique border. Ngondi sent money home to support his orphaned siblings. He lived in Payneville informal settlement. He came to South Africa when he was 18, at first turning the handles of the phenduka gold particle machines for R200 a day.

His friends are now trying to raise the R18,000 needed to repatriate his body.

"Us gweja, bury each other. Our work is dangerous but we always put away some money to ensure that our deceased friends get a dignified burial in Zimbabwe," said a gold buyer.

An informal miner who attended the court hearing in support of the arrested men, told GroundUp that they would carry on mining illegally. "The work must continue," he said.

Chocky Tyaki, a private attorney representing accused number two, Aaron Moses Dhliwayo, a South African citizen, confirmed that he was released on bail after his home address was confirmed. He will reappear in court on 27 March.

Simpiwe Sabela, a Legal Aid attorney representing the other seven, said they will be remanded in custody until 27 March in Modderbee prison.

Dhliwayo told GroundUp after his release, "I do illegal gold mining because l did not complete school. l can't find any other job."

The security guards told GroundUp they were under orders not to talk to the press.

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