The miners ran into the hills and watched as police, Johannesburg Water officials, the Johannesburg Roads Agency and City Power destroyed the gold refinery area, which had until the day before functioned from a stretch of veld behind the informal settlement on Thursday.
Last month, The Star visited the site, where it was discovered that thousands of illegal miners were threatening the water supply in Joburg and wasting thousands of kilolitres a day by bypassing prepaid water meters.
During Thursday’s operation, the sound of spades hitting sand, gushing water and smoke filled the air as City of Joburg officials searched for illegal connections, ripped them out and burnt makeshift pipes and large buckets used to store the stolen water used for refining gold.
“Our purpose today is to remove the illegal water connections, disconnect illegal electricity connections to the shacks from the RDP houses and put a stop to the illegal mining operations here,” said Colonel Andre Lang of the Roodepoort police.
To refine the gold, a lot of water is needed, and this has resulted in zama zamas illegally connecting makeshift hosepipes to RDP houses and bypassing prepaid water meters.
Pulling on two of these water connections, a worker from Johannesburg Water managed to disconnect one of the main water supplies to the zama zamas.
“When we came here yesterday the pipes were above the ground, but when we arrived this morning they were gone; we realised that they must have been buried deeper,” he said.
Lang said the water from the illegal connections ran 24 hours a day because it bypassed the water meters.
“Level 2 water restrictions are in place but in Matholesville there seems to be no water restrictions,” he added.
Police and immigration officers moved from shack to shack checking to see whether the foreigners living inside were illegals.
The Star was on hand as several men and women were arrested and taken in for questioning.
In one instance, City Power workers called for police assistance when those inside a dwelling refused to open the door for them to cut off an illegal connection.
Using a lock cutter and some force, the officer made his way into the shack.
“I’m Venda, I’m Venda,” the man inside pleaded as he was asked for his documents.
“What’s this in Venda?” the officer asked, pointing to his elbow.
Unable to answer, he was arrested on the spot and handed over to immigration officials.
“Several women who are believed to be illegals were also arrested, and we confiscated at least 24 22-litre buckets with gold concentrate inside,” said Lang.
“Last week, 12 tubes of explosives smuggled in from Zimbabwe were also confiscated and two arrests were made,” he added.
Although police had in the past conducted similar operations to shut down the mineshafts and the refinery areas, the zama zamas would reopen the shafts within a few days.
“But this time, we hope that it will be different. In the past we would just stockpile all the material, but now we have trucks to take it all away.
“We are also planning to close down the mineshafts in a few weeks, all the way from Florida to Roodepoort,” Lang said as a large tractor shovel rode over and broke the tables used in the gold-refining process.
As The Star was leaving the scene, a commotion broke out when an illegal miner was found hiding in a garage next to an RDP house.
The man ran down the road as several immigration officers and Joburg metro cops gave chase.
He was finally cornered, apprehended and placed in immigration officials’ van.