Illegal mining: More bodies found at Free State mine

Harmony Gold, South Africa’s third-largest gold producer, on Thursday confirmed that the bodies of another 15 illegal miners had been brought to surface at its Eland shaft in Welkom in the Free State.

This brings the number of bodies recovered to 76 after 61 were brought to surface earlier this week.

Harmony spokesperson Marian van der Walt said that there was no way of saying whether more bodies would be found and recovered.

“We simply have no idea how big this problem is,” she said.

Post-mortem investigations on 25 bodies attributed the deaths to inhalation of smoke and gas.

Smoke and gases were believed to be caused by an underground fire in an abandoned area of the shaft.

The shaft, having been out of use for the past five years, has no ventilation or cooling.

According to Afrikaans daily Beeld, a former police officer who has 12 years of experience in cases of illegal mining said he feared that hundreds more bodies of illegal miners could still be underground in mines in the city.
The former police officer estimated that about 3 000 illegal miners work underground in mines on a daily basis in Welkom alone.

Harmony has charged and plans to prosecute 294 other illegal miners who were arrested in the province over the past two weeks.

Provincial police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Sam Makhele said six additional people were taken in for questioning by police on Tuesday night regarding illegal mining activities.

Of the six people being quizzed, five are men and one is a woman—all Welkom residents.

The mines in the Free State are linked through a series of tunnels and it is reportedly easy to walk underground for more than 35km.

Illegal miners, who often bribe mine security or mine workers to gain access to shafts, are said to stay underground for as long as three months at a time.

Mine workers, some of whom earn little more than R4 000 a month, are likely to be tempted by an offer of up to R2 000 to assist an illegal miner underground.

Mining Minister Susan Shabangu said illegal mining was believed to be linked to syndicates and said some of these operations even went as far as melting gold in the disused mines before smuggling it to the surface.

Promising to leave no stone unturned in the hunt for these ruthless crime bosses, she warned that illegal mining was a threat not only to the mining industry, but also to the South African economy.—I-Net Bridge

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