Underworld: Zama-zamas hold jobseekers hostage
The kidnappers demanded ransom from the captives’ families
Lured underground with the promise of jobs, 24 unemployed young men from Randfontein and Westonaria on Gauteng’s West Rand instead found themselves held hostage by suspected illegal miners.
Now police have arrested three suspects who allegedly held the men captive in one of the Westonaria mineshafts, which is operated by Sibanye mines, while they demanded ransom from their families.
Police spokesperson Sergeant Audrey Sefara confirmed the men had gone underground after being promised mining jobs.
It would, in the end, take the police and rescue teams three days to get the 14 men who did not manage to escape to safety, away from a group of at least 10 armed men.
The alleged captors came up to the surface after the family of one of the victims made arrangements to pay the ransom. Instead, the police were waiting for them.
“The rescue efforts started on Friday and ended on Sunday at about 9.30pm. The police, together with the mine management at Sibanye and rescue services, managed to save the victims. Luckily, no one was reported as having sustained any injuries,” said Sefara.
One of the victims called Times Select on Monday to say the suspects demanded R10,000 from each of their families for their release.
“They wanted us to phone our families so that they could pay the money for us to be free. We were scared that we were going to be killed by these people,” said the victim, who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of his safety and that of his family.
“There were a number of these illegal miners underground, about 10 of them.”
The 22-year-old victim said they were underground as early as Monday last week, and some managed to escape “one by one” and then alerted police.
“If those guys were not brave, we would have been still under that mine and maybe some of us dead by now. It was hot there.”
He said they believed they were to get work at Sibanye mines. “We were happy to hear that we will be getting the jobs. It was just a word of mouth, and when all of us were here underground, things turned bad.”
The mine provided the equipment to help the rescue team bring the men to safety, police said.
“We can confirm that a ransom of R10,000 was demanded from each victim’s families. One of the victims who escaped managed to report it to the police on Tuesday, March, 12” Sefara said.
She said the three arrested suspects were expected back in court on Friday.
They made their first court appearance last week Friday at the Westonaria Magistrates’ Court.
“The suspects were remanded in custody, and are expected back in court on March 22. They are charged with kidnapping, extortion and for being in possession of two illegal firearms and ammunition.”
Police would not comment if that was the work of a syndicate, but warned people looking for work to be more vigilant. Sibanye mines could not be reached for comment on Tuesday afternoon.
In January this year, six men believed to be part of rival illegal mining groups were arrested by police on the East Rand. It is understood that a shootout broke out between the two groups in Actonville, near Benoni. Gauteng police at the time said the two gangs were believed to be responsible for the murders of several illegal miners as well as house robberies in the area.
Five unlicensed firearms were seized by police during the arrests.
They were charged for attempted murder and possession of unlicensed firearm as well as illegal mining.