The army is meant to disrupt connected crime syndicates that, according to new World Bank research, cost the economy at least 10% of gross domestic product each year. Illegal miners known locally as zama zamas — an isiZulu term loosely translated as “take a chance” — operate in disused and active mines across South Africa. The criminality around illegal mining sometimes spills over into local communities. High profile incidents include the alleged gang rapes last year of women by zama zamas, and a gas explosion at a disused mine in Welkom in May this year that killed 31 illegal miners. President Cyril Ramaphosa, announcing the use of troops earlier this month, said the deployment of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) would last until Apr. 28 as part of a wider effort to combat crimes of “economic sabotage.” The president said illegal mining was linked to serious offenses including money laundering, human trafficking, and organized crime.


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