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South Africa security forces ramp up clampdown on illegal miners

For illustration purposes: Police officers round up a group of men as they patrol the area near the Lonmin Platinum Mine near Rustenburg, South Africa on Sept. 15, 2012.   -  
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Themba Hadebe/AP

South Africa

Security forces in South Africa have ramped up a clampdown on illegal miners.

On Thursday (Dec. 14), dozens of army and police searched shacks, seizing mining equipment in the Soul City settlement near Kagiso, west of Johannesburg, AFP reporters saw.

More than 70 people, mostly undocumented migrants, were held over two days in the area, which lies near disused gold mines, the provincial police commissioner told the media.

Some were arrested for drug dealing and possession of illegal firearms, he added.

Along with high unemployment and illegal immigration, rampant crime has become a key political issue ahead of general elections next year.

President Cyril Ramaphosa told a passing out ceremony for 1,400 new police recruits in the central city of Kimberly on Thursday that the country was "tired of crime".

He revealed that over 250,000 arrests were made and 3,200 firearms seized since authorities launched a crackdown on criminality in May.

Commonly known as "zama zamas" ("those who try" in the Zulu language), thousands of informal miners operate in mineral-rich South Africa.

The Johannesburg region in particular is dotted with slag heaps, shafts and deep trenches left by generations of miners, whose arrival in a gold rush in the 1880s led to the birth of the city.

Many informal miners are from other countries, living and working in arduous conditions in the clandestine pits.

Their activities are seen as a source of criminality by locals.

Access to the old mines is often controlled by gangs that sometimes fight for territorial control.

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