22nd July 2024

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Illegal mining: South African forces unite as Light Modern Brigade steps in

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llegal mining

…SANDF extends deployment in dual anti-crime operation to curb illegal mining

Tulani Ngwenya 

Pretoria – The South African Army’s Light Modern Brigade (LMB) has taken centre stage in the nation’s fight against illegal mining with President Cyril Ramaphosa extending the deployment of 880 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers to combat crime and safeguard critical infrastructure.

Light Modern Brigade Tackles Illegal Mining:

The Combat Training Centre (CTC) witnessed a poignant first light parade as the commander of the South African Army set the stage for the deployment of the Light Modern Brigade (LMB), a crucial force in the nation’s battle against illegal mining, commonly referred to as “zama zamas.”

Under the presidential authorisation named Operation Prosper, LMB members are set to be operational until the end of April. Their mission involves reinforcing the police’s efforts to combat various forms of crime, with a particular focus on illegal mining. The official deployment of soldiers, regularly emphasised by President Cyril Ramaphosa, began on October 28 and is scheduled to conclude on April 28 next year. This initiative marks a strategic move in an intensified anti-criminality operation against illegal mining across all provinces.

Currently participating in the division-level exercise Vuk’uhlome 2023 at the Northern Cape CTC are the LMB and three other modern brigades, along with various elements of the SA Army.

Addressing the LMB during the first light parade, SA Army Chief Lieutenant General Lawrence Mbatha delivered a resounding message on the vital role of soldiers in protecting South Africa’s citizens and territorial sovereignty. Emphasising the constitutional duty, Mbatha quoted, “We are not by mistake called the last line of defence. South Africans are entitled to feel free and safe, and as long as we are wearing this uniform, we must sacrifice and perform this constitutional patriotic duty.”

The soldiers on parade are gearing up to deploy under Operation Prosper to reinforce the South African Police Service (SAPS) in the battle against economic sabotage resulting from illegal mining activities by the notorious “zama zamas.” With all systems reportedly in place, the soldiers are described as both physically and mentally prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.

Acknowledging the tough times of sacrifice and separation during deployment, Lieutenant General Mbatha encouraged the Light Modern Brigade, stating, “Deployment is a tough time of sacrifice and separation, but it represents strength, resilience, and the power of human connection. Go Light Modern Brigade and make SA Army proud.” This resolute call to action reflects the commitment of the soldiers in supporting National Police Commissioner General Fannie Masemola’s efforts in tackling the pervasive issue of illegal mining.

President Ramaphosa Extends Crime-Fighting Deployment to fight illegal mining:

Simultaneously, President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced the extension of the deployment of 880 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers to collaborate with the South African Police Service (SAPS) in preventing and combating crime. This extended deployment focuses on safeguarding national key points and critical infrastructure in the energy sector, particularly Eskom power stations, under the ongoing Operation Prosper. The extension is effective from October 18, 2023, to March 31, 2024.

In a letter addressed to the National Council of Provinces dated October 23, President Ramaphosa emphasised the continued cooperation between the SANDF and SAPS to protect vital infrastructure. The operation is a strategic response to criminal activities targeting Eskom infrastructure, with a specific focus on addressing illegal mining and criminal activities in the construction sector.

The expenditure for the extended deployment is estimated to be R110 million, following a previous extension in May that cost R146 million over six months. The initial deployment began in December 2022, with soldiers initially tasked with protecting Eskom infrastructure.

President Ramaphosa recently emphasised the soldiers’ adaptable role during a hybrid question-and-answer session in the National Assembly, saying, “We already see that the support that they lend to the police is quite invaluable and is appreciated not only by the police but by the citizens of our country.” He commended the South African National Defence Force for its capability and dedication to ensuring the safety and security of the nation.

Responding to concerns about the funding of the SANDF, President Ramaphosa acknowledged the ongoing issue of underfunding and expressed the need to increase funding to ensure the force’s readiness to address various challenges, including defending the integrity of the Republic and responding to disasters.

“All departments must collaborate to curb illegal mining”:

Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise, addressing the National Assembly, emphasised the Department of Defence’s vigilance regarding criminal activities such as illegal mining and cash-in-transit heists. She noted the collaboration with other ministers outside the defence and security cluster, including Minerals, Housing, and Water and Sanitation, as these sectors are also affected by illegal mining.

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While concerns have been raised about the use of soldiers for crime-fighting, with critics calling it a “terrible idea,” President Ramaphosa and Minister Modise affirm the readiness of the SANDF to support the police and other ministries when called upon, emphasising a comprehensive plan for addressing the challenges posed by criminal elements.

As the nation grapples with evolving security threats, the government remains committed to addressing the root causes of crime and ensuring the safety and well-being of its citizens.

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