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Zama zama gold mining in Durban Deep, Gauteng, South Africa

Zama zamas or informal miners operate in former mining site Durban Deep at great risk to their lives owing to lack of safety precautions and criminal, police, and other violence.


Although South Africa has a long legacy with gold, variability and declines in global gold prices and rising labor and electricity costs have led to widespread mine closures. Consequently, the speed at which mines are shutting down has led to a boom in informal mining, especially across the Golden Arc, a basin spanning from Johannesburg into the Free State and North West province. Mamy abandoned mines have now been taken over by zama zamas and the violentsyndicates that control them [7]. Zama zamas, a Zulu term for “those who take a chance to try to get something from nothing,” are informal miners [5. 4]. ENACT, a project by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Interpol, and the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, states that that illegal gold mining in South Africa is some of the most violent in Africa and is responsible for $1.2 billion in lost tax revenue yearly [6]. Not only is the work in frequently collapsing mine shafts dangerous, but the zama zamas are also regular victims of cartels often working in tandem with police to rob the miners at gunpoint or coerce them into working for them. Yet they have little other choice owing to a lack of other options for supporting themselves financially [5].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Zama zama gold mining in Durban Deep, Gauteng, South Africa
Country:South Africa
State or province:Gauteng
Location of conflict:Durban Deep
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:Gold
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Zama zamas operate in industrial shafts within large-scale mines [6]. They draw water for processing their finds by connecting hoses to nearby homes, which has dire consequences on reservoirs’ capacity to supply water to residential areas [9]. The zama zamas mine approximately 7 tons of gold worth more than $820 million annually compared to the total national production of 135 tons [8, 6]. Most of the illegally mined gold is exported to Dubai [6].

Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:01/01/2016
Company names or state enterprises:West Wits Mining from Australia
Dino Properties from Australia
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Interpol, and the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, CLAW animal welfare clinic, Bench Marks Foundation
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Artisanal miners
Informal workers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Soil erosion, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, 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
Potential: Malnutrition
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
Potential: Land dispossession
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Court decision (undecided)
Under negotiation
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The violence between zama zamas and companies, crime syndicates, and police continues to escalate especially in light of the coronavirus situation in 2020..
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[10]. Zama-Zama mining in the Durban Deep/Roodepoort area of Johannesburg, South Africa: An invasive or alternative livelihood?

July 2014. The Extractive Industries and Society 2(1). DOI: 10.1016/j.exis.2014.07.003.

Kgothatso Nhlengetwa / Kim Andrea Annafrida Hein. Abstract.

In the Durban Deep/Roodepoort area (Johannesburg), near to the site of the first gold discoveries in the 1880s, Zama-Zama (illegal) miners are widespread. Their presence poses serious challenges to the government and the gold mining industry. Over the past decade, such unregulated mining has resulted in many deaths, attributable to falls of ground, exposure to emissions of noxious carbon monoxide and methane, fire, and attacks from rival gangs of Zama-Zama miners.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[1] The New Jurist. Illegal Gold Mining Activities in South Africa (Kabai 2020)
[click to view]

[5] NS Energy. The plight of the Zama Zamas (Todd 2019)
[click to view]

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

[7] The Guardian. The deadly cities of gold beneath Johannesburg (Clark 2019)
[click to view]

[2] Sowetan Live. Community flees zama-zamas’ terror (Merupeng 2019)
[click to view]

[3] Al Jazeera. Illicit gold trade fuels conflict in South African mining town (Clark 2018)
[click to view]

[4] GroundUp. Murder and corruption in the mining town the world forgot (Clark 2018)
[click to view]

[8] KCET. Fears rise for illegal South African miners hiding underground in virus lockdown (Harrisberg 2020)
[click to view]

[9] The Citizen. City to clamp down on zama-zamas as squatter camp runs dry (Naki 2016)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Dalena Tran, ICTA-UAB, [email protected]
Last update12/07/2020
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