JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – The bodies of another 25 illegal miners have been brought to the surface at South African gold-miner Harmony Gold’s Elands shaft in the Free State province.
Spokesperson Marian van der Walt said on Tuesday that the total number of dead illegal miners had now risen to 61, adding that it was uncertain whether there were any more bodies underground.
The bodies were retrieved by fellow illegal miners, reportedly after an underground fire in an abandoned area. Van der Walt said that the miners might have died from inhaling smoke and gas, but said that the police would do autopsies on the bodies to determine the cause of death.
On Monday, Harmony reported that the bodies of 36 illegal miners had been recovered at the Elands shaft, and that almost 300 illegal miners had been brought to surface in the past two weeks. These people were charged and would be criminally prosecuted.
Illegal mining in South Africa has been taking place for a number of years, but is intensifying with the recent surge in gold price. It has caused the death of over 80 people this year alone, which is more than the 74 deaths that were reported by mining companies.
In March, 20 trespassing miners were killed at gold junior Pan African’s Consort mine, in Barberton, in an underground fire.
‘JUST NOT ACCEPTABLE’
Newly appointed Mining Minister Susan Shabangu visited the shaft near Welkom on Tuesday, and said that the government would put in place a “comprehensive and inclusive operation” to combat illegal mining.
The South Africa Press Association (Sapa) quoted Shabangu as saying that investigations had proven that the illegal mining in the area was organised, and said a bigger effort was needed to stop syndicates from illegally mining South Africa’s old mines.
“Illegal mining in this country just is not acceptable, I think this is the message we want to send out,” she said.
Trade unions have called on the government to “urgently” investigate illegal mining.
“Not only are the illegal miners stealing gold worth millions of rands, but the ensuing accidents are always very severe,” said Solidarity spokesperson Jaco Kleynhans.
“It is a grey area that nobody wants to touch. The workers at the affected mines are the ones who bear the brunt, because mine management at various companies has now prohibited taking food underground out of fear that their employees could possibly sell it to the illegal miners, or zama-zamas, as they are known in the mining industry,” Kleynhans added.
Harmony CEO Graham Briggs said that the company was continuing its efforts against illegal mining. The miner had launched Operation Zama earlier this year, leading to the arrest of 114 people, including 19 Harmony employees.
He said that Harmony was working together with the police, the Department of Justice, the National Prosecuting Authority and other affected mining companies.
In 2007, 23 illegal miners were killed in an underground fire in a disused shaft of the St Helena Mine, also in the Free State.
- with additional reporting by Sapa