We will take matters into our own hands, Riverlea community leader warns Bheki Cele

Police minister and mining officials meet community following protests over violence blamed on informal miners

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Minister of Police Bheki Cele met with community members at the Riverlea Recreation centre on Friday. Photos: Ihsaan Haffejee

The week that started with the community of Riverlea shutting down their township in protest, ended with a meeting attended by Minister of Police Bheki Cele and other officials.

Police moved into the area after five bodies, believed to be informal miners, were discovered last Saturday. Residents said they felt like prisoners in their own homes because of the violence associated with illegal mining.

Police spokesperson Lirandzu Themba said 194 suspects have been arrested since Tuesday.

Residents, also from Pennyville and Zamimphilo informal settlement, attended the meeting on Friday at the Riverlea recreation centre.

Long-time resident Bishop Anthony Sherman said the police presence this past week had made the community confident that something could be done. He thanked the police. However, he warned that permanent and sustainable solutions needed to be found if there was to be safety and stability.

Rejoice Sefatsa, 68, demanded that open mine shafts be closed. She said the Department of Mineral Resources was failing in its duties regarding old mines.

She asked who owned the abandoned mines and why they were not closed. “Who is gaining from this? And who are these zama zamas working for? … There are big people behind this that are benefiting from the sweat of all those people,” said Sefatsa.

She said her home shakes at night from blasting and digging by informal miners.

Chief director at the Department of Mineral Resources, Andries Moatshe, who was present, said Minister Gwede Mantashe had given an order that the mine shafts be sealed.

“We have found around 26 open shafts in this area. We have closed 14 of them. Our investigations indicated that the other shafts have people in them and we need to have them removed before filling them,” said Moatshe.

Earlier, on a walkabout, Cele was shown shafts that had been closed on Tuesday but were already dug open again.

Moatshe said the permanent sealing of mines will begin in the second week of August. “Definitely by the middle of September all holes will be closed permanently,” he said.

Riverlea community leader Njabulo Sikota said that if the various departments did not honour the promises they had just made, the community would take matters into its own hands.

Residents of Riverlea and surrounding areas gather for a community meeting with Minister of Police Bheki Cele and other officials at the Riverlea Recreation centre.

TOPICS:  Crime Mining Policing

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