South Africa’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation arrested 33 people that were illegally extracting gold at the rehabilitated Ellerton mine, just outside the northeastern town of Giyani.

In a joint operation that involved the Serious Organised Crime Investigation Unit‚ the Department for Mineral Resources‚ the Provincial Organised Crime Unit‚ Public Order Police‚ the Air Wing and the Local Criminal Record Centre, authorities were able to seize gold-bearing material, five vehicles, two generators, drills, tents, industrial hammers and a sieve valued at about $54.8K.

The reason behind such a display of force is that normally and according to information from the Chamber of Mines of South Africa, illegal miners in the country belong to organised crime syndicates, are heavily armed and set up ambushes and booby traps around the areas where they operate.

Quoted by local media, the spokesperson for the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, Capitan Matimba Maluleke, said that the raid was organized following an outcry by the nearby community worried not only about their safety but also about the excessive use of water by illegal miners.

Illegal mine site in Giyani. Photo by the South African Police Service.

Maluleke also said that the 33 suspects appeared before the Giyani Magistrate’s Court for contravening the Mineral Resources Development Act, as well as sections of the Criminal Procedure Act. They will remain in custody to allow for further police investigation.

The officer promised that his office will continue to run similar operations to prevent the looting of mineral resources from Giyani and from other districts in the Limpopo province.

The annual commercial value of illegal mining and illicit dealings of precious metals and diamonds is estimated to be over R7 billion or about $591.6 million, the Chamber of Mines of South Africa reports.

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