South African lawmakers on Thursday urged the government to accelerate the closure of abandoned mines in the country, which attract illegal miners, some of whom have been arrested for alleged gang rape.
The alleged rape has caused public outrage and put the spotlight on the problem of the abandoned mines and the illegal miners, many of whom are illegal immigrants.
South Africa’s mines, police and home affairs ministers on Thursday briefed the country’s upper house of parliament on the government’s response to illegal mining and other related crimes.
Police minister Bheki Cele told lawmakers the government believes international syndicates were behind the illegal miners and that a special investigations unit was investigating this.
Police said they had arrested more than 130 illegal miners, most of whom are illegal immigrants, following the alleged rape incident in Krugersdorp, 40 kilometres (24.85 miles) west of Johannesburg on July 28.
Prosecutors said seven of them appeared in a Johannesburg court on Wednesday charged with rape, sexual assault and robbery. Seven more were due in court on Thursday, the prosecutors said.
Lawmakers expressed outrage at the reports of the rape, which triggered protests by residents in Krugersdorp and other townships affected by illegal miners’ criminal activities.
“Why does it have to take one of our long-standing and most ignored social issues to bring attention to the rehabilitation of mines that should have been done as part of the normal functions of your department?” Delmaine Christians, a lawmaker for the opposition Democratic Alliance, asked mines minister Gwede Mantashe.
Mantashe said although every operational mine is required by law to plan and fund mine rehabilitation at the end of operations, the government was facing problems with “ownerless and derelict mines.”
The government had closed 135 such mines in the last three years, the minister said.
“In terms of our plans, we are closing 40 holes per annum. At the rate we’re going, it’s going to take 17 years to close the known holes,” Mantashe said.
Armed gangs of illegal miners also routinely frustrate efforts to clean up and close disused mines, Mantashe said.