In a heartbreaking incident, approximately 30 individuals believed to be illegal miners were discovered deceased at the depths of an abandoned mine in Welkom, a small gold-mining town located 250 km south of Johannesburg, South Africa.
The incident is suspected to have occurred a month prior, highlighting the dangers faced by these miners. South Africa, grappling with widespread unemployment, has become a hotspot for illegal mining activities, with many such miners, known as “zama zamas,” hailing from both South Africa and Lesotho.
In a pursuit known as “ukuvalela ukukhula” in Zulu, individuals venture into abandoned mines that have ceased to be economically viable, hoping to extract any remaining precious metals, gemstones, or even coal. These courageous miners persevere, attempting to make the most of these depleted resources.
Ernest Mulibana, spokesperson for the South African Department of Mines and Energy, informed that individuals suspected of being illegal miners assisted in the retrieval of at least three bodies, while 28 others remain trapped underground based on the information available to them.
The department stated that the victims lost their lives on May 18, and the exact circumstances surrounding their deaths are still under investigation. The mine, previously run by Harmony Gold Mining Company, one of the country’s major ore producers, had been operational until the 1990s.
At this stage, the search for all the bodies has been suspended due to the high levels of methane gas present in the mine. Mr. Mulibana explained that it is currently too risky for anyone to descend into the mine. Efforts are underway to safely bring the bodies to the surface.
Illegal mining is prevalent in the former gold mining areas of South Africa, leading to frequent fatal incidents. These incidents often go unreported as survivors fear arrest if they report them to the authorities.
In a November incident, South African police uncovered the remains of 21 illegal miners in a mine located in Krugersdorp, a town west of Johannesburg. Authorities suspect that the bodies were transferred from another abandoned mine to the operational one by fellow illegal miners with the intention of their discovery.