Death toll of ‘miners’ buried underground might rise – Mantashe

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe fears that the number of illegal miners who died at Virginia Mine in Free State may be more than 30. 

Speaking in Welkom on Monday where the incident occurred in May, Mantashe said illegal miners are an attack on the country’s economy.

“It’s a terrible thing to happen but we are here today to confirm and look for ourselves to see what is happening,” said Mantashe.

“I want to emphasize that illegal mining is not mining activity, it is a criminal activity. They get into accidents and die in numbers.

“They suspect 31 [but] I can tell you that if we ultimately reach that area [where they died], it will be more than 31. In Krugersdorp, we saw the deaths of 21 [and] in Gloria we saw the deaths of 17.”

He said efforts to retrieve the bodies trapped underground will not be easy to execute.

“We have agreed to put our heads together to find a solution. We can’t leave those bodies underground with our conscience. That is what we are working on, but this is going to take a bit longer because there is no direct shaft that has a connection with this shaft.”

Mantashe explained how the illegal miners gained entry to the Free State mine which was closed in the 1990s.

“We commend Harmony [Gold mining company] for doing rehabilitation. There’s something called concurrent rehabilitation. Any mine that is operational does not wait until it is a derelict mine to rehabilitate. Harmony has done a lot of work there, they have sealed a number of the shafts

“But this one was blown open. It was sealed as well. The problem with that explosion is that it blows rehabilitation … and that is where the problem is,” he said.

He noted that people move from Lesotho armed and appear underground with arms. From time to time, he said, casualties occur in that process.

“So, that is the discussion that should be had with the Lesotho government.”

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