Operation Vala Umgodi: Illegal Mining Kingpin Shot Dead in Soweto, South Africa

A Basotho illegal mining kingpin connected to at least 29 murders in South Africa’s Gauteng Province, including the massacre of 16 patrons at Nomzamo Park tavern in July 2022, has been shot and killed by police.

What You Need to Know:

As part of the South African Police’s (SAPS) ‘Operation Vala Umgodi’, a government response to ‘prevent, combat and put a stop to illegal mining activities’, a Lesotho national and illegal mining kingpin has been shot dead after being traced to a hideout in Jabulani, Soweto, in Gauteng Province.

Vala Umgodi was established in December of 2023, and incorporates South African Defence Force (SANDF) members and acts in conjunction with the Department of Minerals and Energy.

According to police, the kingpin, who has not been named, was killed by police after pulling a handgun while attempting to resist arrest. Police did divulge, however, that the suspect was linked to the massacre of 16 patrons at Soweto’s Nomzamo Park tavern in July 2022.

Although six suspects had been identified in the shooting, by July 2023, the National Prosecuting Authority was forced to withdraw its charges after witnesses in the case had either died or withdrawn their claims for fear of their lives, with one of the accused being a former Hawks (SAPS Quick Reaction Force) Branch Commander.

The Details:

Since its establishment in 2023, Vala Umgodi operations, which span 7 provinces, have uncovered 7130 uncut diamonds worth more than 1.7 million USD, 146 firearms, 78 vehicles, 79 trucks, $266,000, and 4518 rounds of ammunition.

As previously reported, ‘Zama-Zama’ is the colloquial term for illegal miners in South Africa, loosely translating to ‘take a chance’ in IsiZulu. Many Zama-Zamas who originate from Lesotho are affiliated with Famo music gangs. Famo music is a traditional type of music from Lesotho, which utilizes the accordion, but in recent years has been used to spread ‘diss-track’ type lyrics against different Famo groups.

These Zama-Zamas oftentimes find themselves in violent disputes while vying for control over South Africa’s most lucrative disused mines.

As previously reported, In September 2022, the mutilated bodies of seven Zama-Zamas were found along the N1 highway in Maraisburg, with another three bodies with gunshot wounds found the following day. A Zama-Zama affiliated with the Terene (a Famo music gang) spoke to local press and claimed the men were attacked by a group of 100 Seakhi (rival Famo gang) members over their use of abandoned mines in the area.

So, What Now?:

Although Operation Vala Umgodi has made gains against illegal mining in the country, the death of a kingpin is likely to lead to a power struggle among rival Zama-Zama groups as they attempt to take over the deceased kingpin’s mining territories. This is likely to lead to an increase in Zama-Zama violence.

Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger is a Political Science Graduate from the University of Otago, New Zealand. Currently working as an Editor for The ModernInsurgent and writing for Atlas News, her interests include conflict politics, history, yoga and meditation.

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