At least three Zimbabweans are suspected to be part of 14 illegal miners that were shot dead in Benoni, Ekurhuleni, about 20km outside Johannesburg in South Africa in vicious fights over gold.
Six of the bodies were found lined up in a valley on Monday, while eight were found yesterday. Johannesburg police spokesperson Colonel Lungelo Dhlamini said the recovered bodies were being kept at Springs mortuary pending a postmortem.
“We’re yet to identify most of the victims and no arrests have been made as yet but investigations are in progress.
“I’m not able to give you the nationalities of the victims at the moment until we exhaust all identification procedures,” he said.
Col Dhlamini said some of the bodies had gunshots wounds while others had sharp stab wounds.
A miner who stays in the Springs area, Mr Gordon Manzou, said he knew three of the victims who hailed from Kwekwe.
He said the killings have been going on in the mine shaft since last week.
“We’re still searching for more bodies. Some of the assailants are still hiding in the mine shaft, while the others escaped through the mine’s various openings.
“The assailants, most of whom are locals, claim to own this place and demand that we pay them R50 as access fees to the mine.
“When we get out we share proceeds on a 50-50 basis,” he said.
Mr Manzou said the gang went berserk and stripped them of the gold they had put together.
A Zimbabwean illegal miner Mr Endurance Kazembe said that his colleagues were ambushed by an armed gang who killed them while they were mining underground.
He said three of the miners were Zimbabweans.
“The people who were killed were my colleagues and three of them are Zimbabweans. I was at home when they were killed. These gangs always come threatening to kill us.
“They will be demanding gold from us,” said Mr Kazembe in a telephone interview as he walked home from the mine at about 7PM yesterday.
Asked why he went to work at the mine where people have lost their lives, he said:
“The mine is big. My family needs to survive.”
Mr Kazembe cut the conversation short, saying he had come across some suspicious local people and didn’t want to be heard speaking his native Shona language, before switching off his cellphone.
Zimbabwe’s consul-general in South Africa Mr Batiraishe Mukonoweshuro yesterday confirmed the killings.
“We received a report that 14 people have been killed in Benoni. Six bodies were found yesterday while eight were found today. All the bodies had gunshot wounds and they were lined up in a valley.
“Police in the area have said they have collected the bodies. They will screen the bodies to see if there are locals. They will take fingerprints of the remaining bodies and give them to Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Lesotho officials here in South Africa so that we send them to our respective countries for identification,” said Mr Mukonoweshuro.
He said by next week, South African police would have finished screening the bodies and identifying the locals, if there are any.
Mr Mukonoweshuro said he would send the finger prints to the Registrar General and the police back home to try and identify the bodies.
“It’s highly likely that most of the people killed are foreigners but it’s unfortunate that most of these illegal miners never have identity particulars. They even use pseudo names, which makes it difficult to identify them.
“Such incidents happen all the time but it would be one or a few people killed not a big number. We rarely find it easy to identify the victims,” said Mr Mukonoweshuro.
A recently discovered gold mine shaft thought to have a lot of gold is said to be behind the turf war that has left 14 illegal miners dead.
An illegal miner said a newly discovered gold rich shaft number 6 in Benoni was at the centre of the deadly wars.
“The Basothos and Zulus are fighting over this new shaft, no one is willing to part with it as it contains lots and lots of gold. All the other Zimbabweans that were killed were caught in the cross fire,” he said.
He said that zama zamas (amakorokoza) make good money with the gold they sell to the “buyers” he did not want to disclose.
Buyers pay the illegal miners as much as R450 per gram which they sell for almost double on the black market.
In 2015, South Africa emergency workers retrieved 11 bodies of Zimbabweans who were killed when a generator they were using in a disused underground mine in Benoni exploded. The group, which comprised 15 people among them Zimbabweans and Mozambicans, reportedly entered the mine on August 27 using the generator for lighting and drilling.
During the process, they started a fire using planks which produced toxic gases which then mixed with carbon monoxide from the generator and exploded.
The 11 died of asphyxiation (oxygen deprivation) while a few managed to escape and made a report to the police.
The incident came a year after 22 Zimbabweans perished in a disused gold mine in Roodeport in May 2014.