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The Withering of the State has Led to the Blossoming of South Africa’s Underworld 

Last year Gold Fields announced it would start building a solar plant to help power South Deep, one of the largest gold mines in the world. Soon afterwards, the South African mining firm got messages from several self-styled “business forums”, a euphemism belying their real interest: extortion. The forums demanded a cut of the contract to construct the plant. They followed up with texts to employees and unauthorised visits to the mine, which lies just outside Johannesburg. The consequences of non-compliance were not spelt out. But they could be assumed. Since 2015 forums have spread from the province of KwaZulu-Natal to the rest of the country, invading construction sites and demanding a share of any deal. In 2019 forums affected at least 183 projects, worth more than $4bn. Tens of thousands of zama zamas, or illegal miners, work for criminal outfits. An industry body reckons they cost the sector 7bn rand a year. Illustrating the scale of illegal operations, in April the military and a private-security firm retook control of a chrome mine that had been extracting metal worth more than 1m rand a day. Around 10% of South Africa’s annual chrome production is exported illegally. A recent survey reckoned there were about 20 illegal chrome-processing plants. In a report last month, Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, a think-tank headquartered in Geneva described 15 illicit “markets”, ten of which it said are growing. (The other five are “stable”.) In an earlier paper it ranked South Africa 19th in the world for organised criminality, ahead of Libya and Russia.