Trapped illegal miners avoid rescue to delay arrest

A rescued illegal miner at a Gold One operation in Benoni on Monday was sent back underground to convince fellow miners to come to the surface. 

The miner, who was not named by officials, was one of 22 miners who have been rescued from a tiny sunken square marked by a small mound of hardened dirt in an obscure field on Johannesburg's East Rand since Sunday. 

The man has been sent to persuade other miners, who are resisting rescue because they do not want to be arrested, to come to the surface. 

The miners who had surfaced were taken into custody. 

"We've assessed them, that is from a patient perspective. They are doing fine. They've been handed over to the organised crime unit at the South African Police Service. They have the proper authorities dealing with the matter," said spokesperson for the Ekurhuleni emergency services, Sugan Moodley.

An undetermined number of miners remain trapped underground, but rescue operations have been suspended.

Emergency 24 spokesperson Russel Meiring told the Mail & Guardian: "The rescue has been suspended due to the miners not wanting to come to the surface. We have left ways for the miners to get out."

Authorities have dropped notices down the hole to warn miners that the entrance will be sealed on March 3. The notice, translated into four languages, says that anyone found using the holing to enter or carry on illegal mining activities "will be arrested".

"You are warned not to proceed underground," it reads. 

Long wait
It is understood that the miners have been trapped underground in the illegal operation since Saturday, and possibly longer. "We got the call yesterday. Basically they'd been there from a day before. Nobody knows how long they've been there before [that]," said Moodley, .

Emergency services retain a presence at the mine, along with police and a heavily-armed security guard. 

The latter have rolled out two layers of barbed wire around a small area cordoned off with red and white tape surrounding the mine entrance. The entrance, about a square-metre in size, is made of concrete and has a chain ladder leading down the narrow shaft. 

Officials hope that the dispatched miner will be able to convince his colleagues to surface. On Sunday, miners who surfaced told journalists that about 200 others remained underground but some reports have varied between 60 and 80. However, according to Moodley there were 15 miners in the holding place from which emergency services were rescuing people. 

It is understood that an underground skirmish between two rival groups may have caused the conditions in which the miners were trapped. However, when the M&G asked police whether it was aware of this, lieutenant Nomsa Sekele, spokesperson from the Benoni police, said she had no knowledge of an underground argument or of any rival groups waging a turf war in the mine. 

None of the miners who have been rescued are injured and their heart rates are within a normal band. All of those who have been recovered will appear in the Benoni Magistrate's Court on Tuesday morning on a charge of illegal mining.

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Thalia Holmes
Thalia Holmes

Thalia is a freelance business reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She grew up in Swaziland and lived in the US before returning to South Africa.

She got a cum laude degree in marketing and followed it with another in English literature and psychology before further confusing things by becoming a black economic empowerment (B-BBEE) consultant.

After spending five years hearing the surprised exclamation, "But you're white!", she decided to pursue her latent passion for journalism, and joined the M&G in 2012. 

The next year, she won the Brandhouse Journalist of the Year Award, the Brandhouse Best Online Award and was chosen as one of five finalists from Africa for the German Media Development Award. In 2014, she and a colleague won the Standard Bank Sivukile Multimedia Award. 

She now writes and edits for various publications, but her heart still belongs to the M&G.     

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