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Illegal miners strain SA-Zim relations

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DIPLOMATIC relations between Zimbabwe and South Africa may soon reach a new low amid concerns in Pretoria that illegal gold miners from Mozambique, Lesotho and Zimbabwe are engaged in violent criminal activities.

BERNARD MPOFU

It is estimated that over three million Zimbabweans have emigrated to the neighbouring country in search of better employment prospects. The undocumented immigrants are working in metropolitan cities, farms and mines.

Just this week, there protests in some of South Africa’s mineral-rich towns targeting the illegal miners known as zama-zamas.

David Makhura, the Gauteng premier, says criminal activities committed by illegal miners are a question of national security.

Makhura was quoted by South Africa’s television channel Enca addressing the people of Kagiso on Sunday at a crime imbizo alongside Police minister Bheki Cele.

The meeting followed the violent demonstrations in the West Rand township this week which were sparked by the gang rape of eight women at a mine dump in Krugersdorp late last month.

Most of the zama-zamas in South Africa, Makhura says, are from specific countries in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) region and this is known by the police.

“This is information that is not a secret. There are those who come from Lesotho…Zimbabwe…and there are those who come from Mozambique. There are three countries. To say this means we as South Africa also have to work with those Sadc countries,” Makhura said.

“We can’t deal with this issue of illegal mining the same way we’ve been dealing with it again. We can’t keep doing this…and they are now gaining more confidence in that they are removing people from houses.”

The rise in violent crime is now a cause for concern both at home.

The ongoing protests come against a backdrop of a visit by Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister Frederick Shava to South Africa. Shava is leading Zimbabwe’s delegation in Pretoria, attending the mid-term review of the Bi-National Commission (BNC) at the invitation of International Relations and Cooperation minister Naledi Pandor.

South Africa’s the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) said Shava and Pandor would co-chair the high-level meeting.

“At the invitation of Dr Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of the Republic of South Africa, Mr Frederick Shava, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of the Republic of Zimbabwe will pay an official visit to South Africa to co-chair the mid-term review of the Bi-National Commission to be held in Pretoria on Wednesday, 10 August 2022,” Dirco said.

“During the visit, the two ministers will also have an opportunity to share information and exchange views on bilateral relations and other matters of mutual interest.”

Numerous Zimbabweans living in South Africa are in limbo, after the South African government announced that it would not be extending the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEP), which lapsed on 31 December 2021.

The almost 200 000 permit-holders were given a 12-month grace period to regularise their stay under another category of permits.

South Africa’s government announced that those who are not successful will have to leave that country or face deportation.

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