(Bloomberg) — South African miners are battling a growing threat miles underground in the world’s deepest platinum shafts: Gangs stealing copper cables and disrupting operations.
Enticed by high copper prices, thieves are sneaking in, descending deep underground and setting up camp among vast networks of tunnels to strip metal from power cables. The country’s platinum giants are struggling to contain the syndicates of trespassers known as “zama zamas” — a Zulu name that means “take a chance.”
Illegal mining has long been a problem in South Africa, though now thefts of equipment are becoming a major worry. The incidents — in some cases daily — can halt work for about a week at a time as cable cuts cripple systems such as locomotives that take ore to the surface.
The looting is part of a crime wave affecting vital infrastructure from railways to telecommunications to utilities, undermining President Cyril Ramaphosa’s efforts to revive the economy. The thefts have become increasingly lucrative with copper recently hitting a record high on expectations that supply will remain tight and mining companies finding it hard to keep the gangs out.
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