Gangs battle over abandoned gold mines in South Africa

Gangs battle over abandoned gold mines in South Africa

Illegal miners in South Africa. (Screenshot from VICE News documentary, via You Tube)

South Africa’s Johannesburg was built on a vast gold reef, which today is home to several deserted mines that have attracted illegal miners and criminal gangs who fight to control the abandoned shafts.

Armed confrontation between opposite groups trying to get a hold of whatever gold is left in the area, however, has intensified in the last few years, according to a special report published by AFP:

 "The kids who are four years old know the sound of the gun," said Springs resident Samson Jerry Aphane, holding a spent bullet in his hand as proof of the deteriorating situation.

"They know they have to lie down."

Weak gold prices and the consequent decline of the sector, paired with unemployment, illegal migration, and poverty, have all contributed to the growth of this criminal activity, a source of informal employment to between 8,000 and 30,000 illegal miners across the country.

Efforts to tackle the problem have, so far, been futile, especially as the number of deserted mines grows. The country is believed to have approximately 6,000 abandoned mines and at least 1.6 million people living in informal settlements around Johannesburg, many of them on or near mine waste sites.

According to a 2011 study titled Ecologies of Gold, the locals’ health has already began seeing the impacts of permanent dust and the hundreds of tonnes of mine waste dumped around the Witwatersrand Basin during almost 130 years of gold mining.