Police recovered 25 bodies, believed to be illegal miners, from a disused Harmony Gold mine shaft, near where 76 illegal miners died in 2009 in what was one of South Africa’s worst mining disasters.
The bodies were recovered from the Eland shaft near Welkom, following a gas explosion late last week, where disused mines without commercially viable amounts of gold still hold enough deposits to attract illegal mining syndicates.
Illegal gold mining has plagued South Africa’s mining companies for decades, robbing the industry and state coffers of billions of rand through small-time pilfering as well as networks run by organised crime.
Police confirmed 11 illegal miners survived and believe more could still be inside. The illegal miners are known in Zulu as ‘zama-zamas’, loosely translates as ‘those who try to get something from nothing’.
“There was an explosion last Thursday and it caused the death of the illegal miners,” police spokesman Major General Lerato Molale said.
He said it was likely the blast was caused by the miners themselves.
The bodies of 76 illegal miners were brought to the surface at the Eland shaft in 2009 following a fire that raged at the mine in Free State province.
Sibanye Gold is the first company to set a deadline to stop the practice and has vowed to clear all illegal miners from its shafts by the end of next January.