Six illegal miners were shot dead during a confrontation with the police while trying to deliver food to their fellow zama zamas, after management closed off the mine’s ventilation shaft.
The incident took place just after 6pm on Wednesday night in Orkney, North West, when more than 300 illegal miners were involved in an alleged attack on security officers and the police in an attempt to forcefully provide food for Zama Zamas who were underground.
North West police spokesperson Brigadier Sabata Mokgwabone said that the shooting incidents came after a decision by the mine management to clamp down on illegal mining activities by closing the mine’s ventilation shaft on Saturday.
Zama Zamas had been using this shaft to enter and exit the mine. Its closure trapped those who were underground without supplies.
“The action effectively stopped the supply of food and water to the Zama Zamas. Due to shortage of food and water, they used explosives to open a hole and started to exit the shaft on Saturday,” Mokgwabone said.
By Sunday, more than 500 Zama Zamas had already exited the shaft and were medically examined for dehydration before being released. Some were treated by paramedics while a few others had to be treated in hospital.
But many Zama Zamas remained in the mines. On Wednesday, the illegal miners on the outside launched an attack on the mine’s security guards so that they could get food and water to the miners underground.
Zama Zamas shot at the security guards, and later the police, as they tried to force their way in. Six illegal miners were killed in the altercation.
Mokgwabone said that four bodies were found near the shaft, one was found approximately 800 metres from the crime scene, while the sixth one was found in the bushes near Kanana location.
Several food parcels and two firearms were found at the crime scene.
Mokgwabone added that the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) was immediately summoned to the scene of the shootings.
Police confirmed that 35 suspects were arrested for attempted murder, causing an illegal explosion, malicious damage to property and conspiracy to commit crime.