Tunatazama - Community Monitors

Soweto/ A conflict growing between Zama Zamas and the Riverlea Community

Riverlea is a little township just outside Soweto on the fringes of Johannesburg. Sections of Soweto and Riverlea are located next to massive gold mine tailings dumps and disused mines. The disused mines are not properly secured and provides access for Zama Zama’s ( informal/artisanal or illegal miners) . The Zama’s work the old mine shafts which run beneath the homes of residents of Riverlea. Because Zama Zama’s are “illegal” parts of this work has fallen into the hands criminal gangs and there are regular shoot outs in the area. The Zama’s live under poor conditions just next to the established township and has set up relationship of conflict between the locals and the “foreign” Zama Zama’s who come from different parts of the country and region. There are also reports that some local school children  are joining the Zama Zama’s believing that they can find gold..

Below are some of the recent posts by monitors in the Soweto Riverlea townships.


  • Government and the Police are aware of the Zama Zamas

Katie Brown 22/11/2017

The shaft at  George Harrison Park near our community is one of the  first Mine Shafts in Johannesburg and more than one hundred years old.The Shaft was recently closed and shortly after, illegal miners were discovered entering the Shaft to look for possible gold.It is reported that the illegal miners stay in the Shaft for 3 weeks. Miners who stayed in the Shaft for longer than 3 weeks were found dead in the Mine Shaft.It is speculated that the Government is aware of the illegal Mine workers, so too are the South African Police Service (SAPS) just opposite the road in Langlaagte.

  • Illegal mining is better than stealing from other people

 Lorraine Kakaza 22/11/2018

We had a toxic tour afternoon and we went to George Harrison park in Riverlea near Langlaagtee whereby we meet the illegal miners or zamas zama’s  where  the first gold was discovered in 1886 by George Harrison . The mine was closed and they change it to a heritage site in the 1970’s and they reopen it again for mining purposes. The mine that took over from +- 5years back was CRG (Central Rand Gold), when they left they did not rehabilitate the mine as required by law but left it open for Zama Zama’s.Most of the Zama Zamas come  from different countries in the southern African region. They work under very dangerous conditions and don’t have proper personal protective equipment.They spend as long as three weeks underground; some spend more than this. This depends on the amount of minerals they can find.They put their life in danger because they die but they don’t have a choice as they are bread winners I ask them why they had to risk with their lives, they explained to me they rather do this kind of work than going to steal for someone. And at the end of the day they do have buyers who are prepared to pay for the gold. They don’t know who these buyers are . They only know that there  are two government officials who are involved, but they don’t know them personally.This mining places the community who live on the surface where they mine. They make the ground unstable. Many people have built their own houses and now find that the value of their houses have dropped.

  • Zama Zama’s spend up to a month underground

Dawn Anderson 21 November 2017

Our visit  to  George  Harrison  Park where gold  was first discovered  in 1886  the  place  was  then known  as Randjieslaagte It was very busy at the abandoned mine illegal miners known  as Zama Zamas where in and  out of the shafts. They wanted to know our reason for being there.    We told them that we were from the community nearby and that we were concerned about their presence and activities.. One said he spends seven to fourteen days underground another twenty days to a month.What  I learnt  is that people  need to make a living and  the Zamas Zamas  they will go to extreme  lengths to  get what  they want even at the cost of their own lives

  • School Children join Zama Zamas

Chris Molebatsi 28/11/2018

For the first time I have been informed of the existence of child labour in artisanal / Illegal Mining. My source tells me that school kids are dropping out to work for the Zama Zamas.I have requested my source who also work at the same school, to accompany us So that we can learn more about this. He told me he has the relationship with the Zama-zamas and most of the dropouts are from the very school he is working at.

Chris Molebatsi 16.12.2018

We are on a tour around the West Rand, Krugerdorp and I had an opportunity to speak to one of the Zama_zamas. He showed me how they extract gold from the crushed rocks using water and a plate.It is hard to believe that someone sitting in London is  getting billions of pounds from gold while Africans fending for themselves are being criminalised by their own government for extracting minerals from their forefathers’ land.


  • Zama zama batled leave a dead body on the street

Dawn Anderson 22/03/2018

Avon street Riverlea Johannesburg a body was brought up from the mine and left on Avon street. This is the second incident the first Zama Zama brought up from the mine was 19 October 2017.. If it’s not the underground explosives, it’s the constant gun shots fired by them.  It is a battling problem for the local police station.Illegal immigrants come to the city to better their lives and for most of them mining is the only option.Eyewitnesses saw friends carrying the body yo the side of the road, they left his families contact details on him.   They also neatly wrap the body in plastic.  Our community is traumatized, they fear the unknown


  • The Mayor talks about illegal mining 

Dawn Anderson 22 April 2018

Johannesburg Mayor Mashaba calling on the Mineral Resources Department to stamp out illegal mining.  He says, he has written to the Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe and his predecessors to do something about the problem.  The mayor says, the majority of the illegal miners are foreign nationals who are taking wealth out of the country.Mashaba says, illegal mining is putting the area around FNB stadium in danger of collapse but, sadly he does not mention Riverlea. He says, the Department will have blood on their hands if anyone is injured. “We will have a disaster the world has never seen before,” Mashaba said. “This is going to be culpable homicide.”


  • Zamimpilo a informal settlement in Johannesburg.

Dawn 23 April 2018

Residents are frustrated with shack dwellings.The ground their shacks are built on stays moist because of water flowing past  their dwellings.The removable toilets is not too far away and the dumping site where the children play daily, the stench is just unbearable .If they had jobs they would have a choice to where they lived.  The children are sick because they play in the dirt the adults resort to doing the wrong things like stealing from nearby community, it’s not a safe place for any human being. Many people from Zamimpilo are Zama Zamas.


  • Councillor leads community walk about in Zamimpilo

Dawn 1 May 2018

Riverlea Johannesburg mining community members together with the councillor planned a walk about on Workers Day to Zamimpilo nearby informal settlement. Many Zama Zamas live in this settlement .What we  saw was illegal water and electrical connections, broken taps, neglected animals like goats, sheep, cows, dogs and chickens.   The playground for the children were the dumping sights.The councillor said he joined them in their walk, so everyone could understand the real issues and not hearsay causing unnecessary tension but getting truth from both sides.


  • Riverlea Residents talk about Zama Zamas

Rapule Moilela with Dawn Anderson and Charles Van Wyk  9/06 2018

I was shown the holes that the Zamas created to reach the underground tunnels. Charles a Riverlea resident who took me around burned a tyre on one of the holes so that smoke  will force who ever that was  inside to come out. Residents of Riverlea are very worried about the tunnels that are being opened because it runs under their houses.  Mining in these tunnels have an impact on the community because of the noise from blasting. They are also worried that the blasting can set of explosions because there are SASOL gas pipes in this area. if the anyone could go do anything that will trigger the fire from the ground, residents are worried that their houses will be burnedThese homes are in Riverlea extension 3 next to CRG mining. On the surface the mine operates with all their machines and dump trucks. At the same time, underground, the Zama’s are the working.

The movement of zama Zama’s underground  is another problem, It brings down the value of houses in Riverlea Extension number 3 where most of the underground operations are felt. It is  sad because these are houses built privately with  a bank  loan.Zama Zama’s are young people from the same place many which speaks fluent Zulu

Aunty Dawn told me that the police take money from the Zama Zamas and therefore give them protection.The Zama Zamas are also in danger where they live. They stay an informal settlement called Zamimpilo alongside bond houses and there’s an illegal connection of electricity

Charles a resident told me that the CRG wanted to close the mine but with rubble and the community wants the rehabilitation of that area not dumping of rubble on the holes because holes could be opened again

The Zama Zama’s dig till they find the spot where they can start the operations and no one can stop them. Charles said that member of the community when to the police to report the crime but no help was given since the police in Langlaagte  are involved with the Zama’s.Charles and myself witnessed a transaction between police and one of the Zama Zama guy We saw a Zama give money to a member of the South African Police Service who was in uniform and was driving a police car.The taxi association is connected with them for transportation as they always wait for an empty taxi to take them home

This illegal mining creates a lot of problems for the community. There are health and safety problems for the miners, environmental problems, because the Zama’s opening up old mines.

The big problem for the community is the crime  that is linked to Zama Zamas. Residents complain of house breakings during the day when home owners are not around.The Zama’s undermine the community of Riverlea  in other ways. There is high unemployment and lots of poverty in this community. Young girls throw themselves to the Zama Zamas since they have lots of money.At one point there was a protest at Zamimpilo and it was about the demand for RDP houses

We should hold the government accountable for promises not fulfilled and for him to address the illegal mining issue that is affecting the communities that are already affected by mines since the beginning



  • An Interview with Zama Zama’s near Soweto 

Chris Molebatsi February 2017

In the many abanonded mines around the gold belt , unemployed miners continue the search for the mineral. They do this at great risk to health and life. For them, the Zama Zama’s as they have come to be known, this is about their children back home. They are regarded as “illegal” and are harassed by the policy.

Chris Molebatsi spoke with the Zama Zama’s at the the George Harrison  Park an abandoned mine on the edge of Soweto. He asked about their health and safety as miners working outside the formal system and how they saw their future.


Q :  How does the the rain water affect your minining operation?

A: We don’t have a problem with rain water, the only thing is that those who are in charge of the mine open the water in the pipes deliberately to make it difficult for us to work. There are pipes underground.Sometimes we find them opened, by who we don’t know, but since the owners of the mine do not want us to work here, we believe they are the only people who can open and shut the valves.

Q: Then what do you do to continue with your work in the case where you find water at the place where you want to work?

A: We have to take the water away from the area, using the towels we buy from the shops. We throw them in the patches of water, when they are soaked we spin into the buckets and spill away from where we are working. We do it repeatedly until such time that the area has been cleared of water. That is why we take so many days underground, we first have to make sure that our working areas are safe for us to work on.

Q: How safe is your work , what about rock falls. Has anyone been injured underground here?

A: Yes but it was a long time back and I was not around. Since that time no one has ever been injured, we insist on safety. As for the rock falls we first check before we start working and if the place is dangerous we go to the other place. If someone gets ill underground we can’t leave him there we bring him up to the surface where he can be taken for medical help.Sometimes to the doctor, clinic or hospital. We know that dust is as well a problem in the mines as it can lead to the lung problems, that is why we bring our cloths to cover our mouths and noses to avoid inhaling dust. Underground water is a problem because we don’t have proper safety clothes.

Q: Do you all know one another, from home or here? In some other places where people are working like you are doing here, there have been cases of gun fights at times resulting in death. Is it the case here?

A: Some knew each other from home, others met here. No we are not here to fight, we have agreed and we are working together. We protect one another and resolve our conflicts amicably. The only problems we encounter here are with the police, they are the ones who are trying to create conflict amongst us. What they sometimes do here is unacceptable. They sometime take the stuff from one person and give that to the other person, working with us. That makes people look at each other in a bad way. They will want you to pay R2000-00 when they arrest you, if you don’t have that they will give the stuff to the other one who give them that amount of money. If they don’t do that they will go and sell the stuff (ore) to our buyers at a very low price. This put us under pressure as it makes it difficult for us to negotiate a better price with the buyers. It is mainly the Langlaagte and the Roodepoort police who are doing this to us.

We are powerless when it comes to the police, but when it comes to gangsters or other people trying to take our stuff (ore), they can’t because we make sure that we stand guard here when the other shift is to come out so that no one can come and take their ore. I learnt that people were killed somewhere around here when they came out unaware and unsuspecting that they were waited by some crooks at the exit. That has prompted us to have guards here at the entrance to make sure that no one will go in to attack or kill our people. Again no one can come and wait here without our guards knowing who he is. We work very hard for our children back home, we have to send money every month. Remember we sometimes spent weeks underground to make sure that we come out with more ore.

Q: How do you survive underground for such a long time? What do you eat or drink?

A: As I said we work together.There are people up here, they buy food and water and send them down with the others who go for their shift. We also make sure that we take food along when we start our shifts, we also leave some money with others so that when we decide to stay longer we can stay without having to worry about food or water.

Q: Are you making enough/ a lot of money, taking into consideration that you are risking your lives?

A: No, the thing is that we have families to look after and there are no jobs, even in areas like Rustenburg I heard the mines are retrenching workers. So for our children to go to school we have to do this kind of job. It is better than to go and rob other people of their hard earned money and assets. Just look at our numbers here and ask yourself how many people were to lose their valuables if we were all to go out and commit robbery, how many were to die if we were to decide to kill. We are not making a lot compared to the risks but we are proud because we are working not waiting for hand-outs.

Q: Can you tell me any other things that you would like me to know regarding whatever we have been talking about, and please feel free?

A: Well as I said we have children struggling back at home, we appeal to you and other people to assist us to get permission to work here freely. That will make things easier even for our children to go to school. We are not here to commit any crime. There are people like “Izinyoka“ who deal with cables, they take cables from everywhere even at road intersections and this can lead to car accidents. We don’t want to steal from others or sell drugs.