For the past two years, armed gangs have been mounting brazen attacks at gold smelting facilities in South Africa, with Dubai, India and China being the main destinations for the loot, according to the latest issue of the Risk Bulletin.
Covering illicit economies in eastern and southern Africa, the publication of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime has also focused on the:
- Use of gangs by politicians in election campaigns in Kenya;
- Floating armouries in the western Indian Ocean – new trends in the maritime security landscape; and
- The sharp rise of synthetic cannabinoids in the Indian Ocean islands.
Among several incidents described as “audacious armed robberies”, in March a gang of 20 armed men stormed a gold plant 140km west of Johannesburg, operated by Village Main Reef – a Chinese-owned mining company.
“Hijacking a front end loader, the gang overturned an armoured vehicle and broke through the wall of a smelt house. According to industry sources, the gang made off with an undisclosed amount of calcine – the gold-bearing material from which bars of bullion are processed.
“The attack was an audacious example of the spate of armed heists that have targeted gold smelters in SA since 2018. The gangs are armed with automatic assault rifles, with 15 to 30 gunmen typically involved.
“In the view of some security analysts, the gangs’ methods – including cutting power to take out CCTV cameras, the taking of hostages and the use of explosives in some cases to blow through perimeters – suggest they have recruited former members of the police, armed forces or ex-private security personnel,” reported the publication.
Although the Risk Bulletin referred to statistics supplied by the Minerals Council SA – 19 attacks on gold facilities last year, up from five in 2018 – the publication has maintained that “this may be an underestimate, as not all companies report such incidents to the council, particularly smaller producers who are not council members”.
The council acknowledged the theft of more than 100kg of gold, “but not all companies have disclosed their losses”, it said.
“Companies are also unwilling to acknowledge publicly attacks have taken place at their facilities.”
In December 2019, global miner Gold Fields South Deep mine in Gauteng was hit. Quoting company spokesman Sven Lunsche, the publication has reported that 15 armed men stormed the mining operation and made off with gold worth about about R7.6 million from the smelting plant.