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Zama zama diamond mining in Kimberley, South Africa

To combat violence and environmental degradation from mining companies and criminal syndicates, zama zama artisanal miners received mining permits for their own fair-trade practice with Michelle Goliath and Elisa Louw's assistance.


Since colonialists such as Barney Barneto and Cecil John Rhodes took land from indigenous Griqua, Nama, Batlhaping, and other peoples in the Kgalagadi desert in 1869 to establish the diamond mining conglomerate De Beers, Kimberley has been the heart of South Africa’s diamond mining industry. Today, the De Beers diamond mines are now residual dumping sites owned by Ekapa Mining, where approximately 30,000 people, mostly migrants from across the nation, work as zama zamas, or informal miners [15, 13].  The name zama zama comes from the Zulu verb for taking a chance [3]. They do small-scale unregulated artisanal “illegal” mining digging for diamonds in abandoned mine dumps with pickaxes and shovels. The work is dangerous owing to lacking proper equipment and rescue opportunities for the many deadly accidents caused by shaft collapses, rock falls, gas explosions, and more. Yet there is often little other choice because getting a permit from the Department of Mineral Resources is very costly and difficult [14].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Zama zama diamond mining in Kimberley, South Africa
Country:South Africa
State or province:Northern Cape
Location of conflict:Kimberley
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral ore exploration
Specific commodities:Diamonds
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Zama zamas seek diamonds by digging with shovels and pickaxes, then crushing the rocks by hand and passing the dust through a sieve looking for diamonds. Altogether, the informal mining industry is worth about $500 million annually (by comparison, the legal mining industry produces about $45 billion per year). But for individual miners, the winnings are generally small. Most miners never find a diamond worth more than a few hundred dollars, and even those can come months or years apart [4].

Project area:500
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:04/04/1869
End of the conflict:08/04/2019
Company names or state enterprises:Ekapa Minerals
De Beers from South Africa
Supper Stone
Crown Resources
International Swedish Housing Company
Relevant government actors:High Court, Department of Mineral Resources, Sol Plaatje Municipality
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Kimberley Artisanal Mine Workers, Black First Land First, Mining Affected Communities United in Action, Batho Pele, Centre for Sustainability in Mining and Industry at Wits University, Action Aid, Women in Artisanal Mining, GroundUp
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Artisanal miners
Informal workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Mine tailing spills
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Land dispossession
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Application of existing regulations
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Although the mining permits were successfully obtained and the miners can now worry less about company and gang violence against them for illegal mining, the permits still have not drastically improved the zama zamas' quality of life, and they still live in impoverished conditions, with women especially vulnerable.
Sources & Materials
Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[1] IOL. Northern Cape's female 'zama zamas' trained as artisans (Makhafola 2019)
[click to view]

[8] Black Opinion. Ekapa, stop the violence against the Kimberley Artisanal Small Scale Miners (2017)
[click to view]

[12] France24. South Africa's DIY diamond miners emerge from the shadows (2018)
[click to view]

[2] IOL. Women zama-zamas empowered (Setena 2019)
[click to view]

[14] Mail&Guardian. The case for giving zama-zamas mining rights (Moose 2017)
[click to view]

[13] Mail&Guardian. God’s tears add a sparkle to zama-zamas’ lives (Ledwaba 2019)
[click to view]

[3] CS Monitor. Mining wrote South Africa’s history. Does it have a future? (Brown 2019)
[click to view]

[6] University of Cape Town. Mining permit granted to zamazamas (Mpinga 2018)
[click to view]

[4] Solomon Star. “We are being treated like dogs”–Artisanal miners (2019)
[click to view]

[5] Briefly. 200 'Zama zamas' win bid to legally mine in the Northern Cape (Riddle 2019)
[click to view]

[9] Black Opinion. ‘De Beers take your bloody hands off the Zama Zamas’–BLF (2017)
[click to view]

[10] Black Opinion. BLF stands with the Zama Zamas in Kimberley (2017)
[click to view]

[11] Black Opinion. BLF celebrates victory of the Zama Zamas in Kimberley (2018)
[click to view]

[7] Black Opinion. Zama Zamas march to HAWKS and DMR on 10 May 2017 (2017)
[click to view]

[15] Daily Maverick. Solving South Africa’s violent and costly Zama Zama problem(ISS Today 2019)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Dalena Tran, ICTA-UAB, [email protected]
Last update11/07/2020
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