Harmony suspends 57 workers over gold theft

Harmony Gold on Friday said it has suspended 57 workers for gold theft, days after the bodies of 76 illegal miners were recovered from one of its abandoned shafts.

“We suspended 57 employees for alleged gold theft. At this stage it is still an internal matter. We are finalising the paper work,” Harmony Gold chief executive Graham Briggs said

Seventy-six illegal miners died at a disused shaft owned by the world’s fifth-largest gold producer in central Free State, apparently after a fire broke out on May 18.

Briggs told Agence France-Presse that the suspensions were part of efforts against illegal gold trading, with gold theft linked to illegal mining and criminal syndicates behind the practice.

The latest suspensions brings the number of Harmony Gold workers suspended this year to 134.

Police spokesperson Sam Makhele said 31 of the 76 bodies have been identified so far.

“Most of those [illegal miners] identified come from Lesotho and South Africa. Their ages range between 25 and 49 years. We are still trying to identify them first and then we will proceed with the post-mortem,” he said.

“This is a long process so we won’t know the cause of death for quite some time, it could be months.”

Makhele said six people suspected of being part of a syndicate were brought in for questioning this week but had since been released.

Illegal mining deep inside South Africa’s abandoned pits has long plagued the world’s third-largest gold producing nation, with diggers sometimes living for months underground to smuggle the precious metal. — AFP

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