South Africa: More Than 200 Trapped Illegal Miners Refuse to Leave Mine

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A dozen miners may have been rescued so far, but more than 200 illegal miners are still trapped underground and refuse to leave the abandoned gold mine. According to Werner Vermaak spokesman of ER24, a rescue group,  those who are rescued are checked by on-site medics and after being cleared are then being turned-over to the police. It is believed they were trapped there since Saturday morning.

Initial reports indicate that more than 200 illegal miners are still trapped in the deeper parts of the mine. However, the exact numbers of those trapped are still being determined as of this time. Roger Mamaila of the Ekurhuleni Emergency Services said that the 200 miner figure is inaccurate too. The abandoned mine is near Johannesburg in the semi-rural suburb of Benoni.

Vermaak added the main reason why those trapped miners chose to remain underground is that they fear arrest once they surface. According to ER24, since the illegal miners refused to be rescued, the group has stopped its effort to help free them. Local police and mine security officials are still at the site to monitor the progress of the incident as well as to arrest any other miners who will come out.

Earlier, Benoni police had been alerted by shouts from trapped miners. Upon inspection, a crane was used to shift a large concrete slab that was blocking the shaft of the mine allowing some of the miners to be freed. The site belongs to the Chinese-owned company Gold One which has prospecting rights over the mine but is not currently working in it.

Illegal miners in South Africa are on constant look-out for these abandoned mine sites where they excavate ore to sell and often live underground in dangerous conditions. Fatal mine accidents often happen mostly in these abandoned mine sites. Complicating the situation are the appearances of rival groups claiming territories which usually result in violent clashes and battles.

Reports indicate that for this latest accident, the illegal miners dug a tunnel next to the access shaft which collapsed behind them and trapped them inside. According to Grant Stuart, a Gold One spokesman, the miners were trapped in the “New Kleinfontein“ ventilation shaft. He added heavy rains may have triggered the collapse. A reporter for South Africa Eyewitness News, Werner Vermaak, meanwhile said that the rock slide was caused by a rival group who dropped boulders down the shaft in order to trap the other miners.

South Africa, a country rich in gold, has repeatedly issued warnings to its citizens about the dangers of entering and digging into old mines. In a statement issued last September, Susan Shabangu, the country’s Mineral Resources Minister said that illegal mining “poses a danger not only to the miners themselves, but to the communities, as well as the economy and existing mines.” Efforts by the Parliament of South Africa to legalize illegal mining have been fruitless due to the fact that the costs of converting these old mines to meet the requirements of modern safety standards are very prohibitive.

Last month, Gold One was delisted from the Australian and Johannesburg stock markets after the company’s share capital was purchased by a Chinese consortium called BCX Gold Investment Holdings.

With the condition of the more than 200 miners still trapped but refusing to leave the abandoned, underground gold mine, authorities in South Africa are still on the site to monitor the incident and likely arrest those who come out.

By Roberto I. Belda



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