AFP reporters witnessed hundreds of army and police officers searching shacks and collecting mining equipment on Thursday, December 14, in the Soul City colony near Kagiso, west of Johannesburg. The regional police commissioner told the media that over 70 people, the majority of whom were illegal migrants, had been detained in the vicinity of abandoned gold mines for two days. He said that some people had been caught possessing illegal guns and peddling drugs.

Before the general elections next year, widespread crime has emerged as a major electoral issue alongside excessive unemployment and illegal immigration. In the central city of Kimberley on Thursday, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared that the nation was “tired of crime” at a handing-out ceremony for 1,400 new police recruits. He said that since police began a crackdown on criminal activity in May, more than 250,000 people have been arrested and 3,200 guns have been recovered. Thousands of informal miners labor in South Africa’s mineral-rich region; they are commonly referred to as “zama zamas” (meaning “those who try” in Zulu).

Slag heaps, shafts, and deep pits left by several generations of miners, whose presence during a gold rush in the 1880s gave rise to the city, are particularly visible in the Johannesburg region. Foreign nationals make up a large portion of the informal miners who live and labor in the secret pits under harsh conditions.

The villagers view their actions as a breeding ground for criminal activity.

Gangs frequently control access to the abandoned mines, and they occasionally engage in territorial conflicts.

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