Cosatu 'shocked' by deaths of illegal miners

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) on Tuesday said it was “shocked and dismayed” by the news of the deaths of 36 illegal miners.

Harmony Gold Mining (HAR), South Africa’s third-largest gold producer, on Monday said the bodies of 36 illegal miners were brought to the surface by fellow illegal miners at its Eland shaft in the Free State during the weekend.

The miners reportedly lost their lives following an underground fire in an abandoned area of the mine.

“Our affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers, is monitoring the situation, and we demand a full investigation into this shocking situation,” Cosatu said.

In the meantime, trade union Solidarity has called for the Department of Mining to put together a task team to investigate illegal mining in South Africa.

“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.

This is not the first time the remains of illegal miners have been found in the Eland shaft.

Two weeks ago, five bodies were recovered and in 2007, 25 illegal miners died in a similar underground fire.

This is also the second accident of its kind this year, after 20 illegal miners died at the New Consort gold mine near Barberton in March.

The deaths are over and above the 73 fatalities reported by South African mining companies so far this year.

“A task team consisting of all the role-players must urgently look at the problem. It is a grey area that nobody wants to touch,” said Kleynhans.

He said coordination between the various government departments, such as the Department of Mining, Department of Justice, the National Prosecuting Authority and the South African Police Service must also improve if any progress is to be made in the fight against this problem.

Harmony said on Monday it had also charged and will criminally prosecute 294 illegal miners who were brought to surface at the shaft over the past two weeks.

The gold producer said it has tightened security.

“We continue to address the issue of criminal mining on a daily basis, together with the South African Police Service, the Department of Justice, the National Prosecuting Authority and other affected mining companies,” said Harmony CEO Graham Briggs.

Meanwhile, Mining Minister Susan Shabangu expressed her condolences on Monday following the deaths of the illegal miners.

“I am saddened by the deaths of 36 miners who perished whilst they were allegedly involved in illegal mining of an abandoned mine,” she said in a statement.

While the government did not condone illegal mining, “these are human lives that have been lost; children have been orphaned and women have been widowed. I would therefore like to extend sympathies to the families of the bereaved,” she said.

She was expected to visit the mine on Wednesday.—Sapa

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