/ 6 March 2009

Illegal miners will be ‘swallowed by the earth’

The ”bellies of the earth” will swallow illegal miners trying to strike it rich in the ”bowels” of the gold mines in Barberton, Mpumalanga police warned on Friday.

Rescue workers had recovered the bodies of 19 illegal gold miners at Consort Mine, in Barberton. At least one more body has yet to be retrieved, Captain Leonard Hlathi said in a statement.

They died in a fire started in the mine on February 21.

Shortly after the incident, London-listed miner Pan African Resources said the miners started a fire while conducting illegal mining activity.

”Management have sealed off the area and all necessary safety precautions have been taken; no mine employees have been harmed,” the company said.

”They all died of smoke inhalation,” Constable Jabulile Ndubane said after the first 16 bodies were found in the two weeks after the fire.

Hlathi said on Friday that 86 illegal miners had been arrested at the neighbouring Sheba Mine.

Security guards at the mine arrested 24 of them during routine patrols inside the mine on Wednesday. On Thursday, they arrested another 52 people who had illegally gained entry.

All of them were to appear in the Barberton Magistrate’s Court on Friday.

”We believe there are still bodies trapped underneath the mine,” said Hlathi.

”The survivors told the police that when they went inside the mine they were in groups, but the retrieved bodies do not reflect the number of people who entered the mine.”

He said 15 of the illegal miners found dead so far had been identified by their next-of-kin.

”It has been established that some of the people mining illegally at the mines entered the country illegally and it will be difficult to establish their countries of origin.” — Sapa