South African authorities have recovered 61 bodies of illegal gold miners who died at the weekend at a disused gold mine. Tom Smith, head of Harmony’s operations in the Free State is quoted saying “Today [Tuesday] we found 25 more bodies,”
“The bodies are not burnt. It seems more of a case of gas or smoke inhalation” he added.
Reports say some of the dead are Zimbabweans and Mozambicans.
According to reports today the tragic accident occurred at the weekend but the mine shaft being ” too dangerous to search for the bodies” has left authorities perplexed about how to retrieve the bodies.
Harmony Gold Mining Co. the mine where the accident happened said the illegal miners died at Eland shaft, in the central Free State province. They have claimed 36 of the victims have been bought to the surface but that it was too dangerous to send its own employees on underground searches
Illegal mining has often gone unnoticed due to miners’ dexterity at sneaking past security at one mine and exiting from another owned by a different company several kilometres away, reports say.
Tom Smith is quoted saying the trapped illegal miners included South Africans and illegal immigrants from neighbouring Zimbabwe and Mozambique, belonging to organised syndicates.
It is believed that most of the victims are former miners employed by some mining firms, who target remnants of gold-rich ore in disused mines, which they dig out with shovels and at times use explosives, he said.
Catching thieves was difficult in the labyrinth of mines.
“These are very well organised syndicates, the people who died at Eland are at the bottom of the chain. You can call them the foot soldiers who do the dirty job,” Smith said “You can easily walk underground for over 35 km (22 miles) in the Free State mines” he continued.
Reports say another 294 illegal miners had been arrested in the province in the past two weeks and would be prosecuted.
That followed the arrest of 114 in March — including 19 Harmony employees.