Trapped South African miners arrested after escape

The BBC's Nomsa Maseko says some of the miners have left their stash of gold in the mine in case they are arrested.

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Ten illegal gold miners have emerged from an old South African mine, with more still underground.

Some of the men came out after being told there were no police around - but all 10 have now been arrested by police who had been hiding, the BBC's Nomsa Maseko tweeted.

The miners are reported to have been trapped by a rival group.

Those underground are once more refusing to leave the mine shaft for fear of being arrested.

The landscape around the abandoned mine near Johannesburg is dotted with similar abandoned shafts - attracting men from around the region with the promise of remaining gold deposits.

Ventilation shaft The miners have been using this ventilation shaft to come up

Some men may also be resisting coming to the surface of the mine because they fear losing any gold they have found, say correspondents.

Previous reports suggested as many as 200 fellow miners remained underground, but our correspondent says the latest estimates put the figure far lower, at about 15.

Analysis

When I arrived at the scene I was surprised. I was expecting huge mining infrastructure, but in Benoni I just saw an open field and a small hole in the ground.

Under here the miners, many of whom are believed to come from neighbouring countries, are trapped. It is reported that a rival group of gold miners might have deliberately sabotaged the exit of the men who were trapped. I touched the huge concrete boulder blocking the exit that caused all the trouble. It certainly couldn't have been blown by the wind.

Johannesburg is a city that was built in the gold rush of the late 1800s and the city is still surrounded by slag heaps. Even now, there are still people who believe they can lay their hands on the shiny metal just by digging a hole in the ground.

Many of these old gold mines have been long abandoned. So miners come without paperwork or permits to try their luck. These illegal miners are known as "zama zamas", or hustlers.

It is not clear when this operation will end, as it is not known exactly how many remain in the vast network of underground tunnels, our correspondent says.

She says that such miners often take enough food and water to be able to survive underground for several days.

One man came halfway up the shaft and then turned round when he saw the cameras.

Notices warning miners that they face arrest and that the mine will be sealed in two weeks' time have been thrown down the shaft.

Many of the miners are from Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, officials say.

Police tactic

The official rescue operation was suspended on Sunday after 11 miners agreed to come out. All 11 face charges of illegal mining, police say.

Other trapped miners refused to leave after discovering they faced arrest.

Earlier on Monday, a man was seen shouting down the shaft: "It is safe to come out, the police are not here," our correspondent said.

Rescue personnel were seen negotiating with the men and those emerging were not immediately arrested.

But our correspondent said a police van had been hidden at the scene and she later confirmed all 10 men who resurfaced on Monday had in fact been arrested.

It appears police "'allowed' one miner to walk away - as a tactic to convince others to come out," our correspondent tweeted.

The 10 men are all said to be in good health.

The men are believed to have become trapped because a rival group of miners stole some of their gold haul and then blocked the shaft with rocks to prevent a pursuit.

Mining South Africa's riches

  • Minerals and metals account for 60% of all export revenue
  • Mining contributes close to 10% of South Africa's GDP
  • 513, 211 jobs - in 2011
  • South Africa is world's biggest platinum producer, with 80% of the world's reserves
  • It has 50% of known global gold reserves

Source : South African Chamber of Mines (2012)

The miners are believed to have been trapped since Saturday morning in an open field near the town of Benoni.

The men used an old ventilation shaft to access the mine - one of many such holes in the area.

Police heard cries for help when they were patrolling the area on Sunday morning.

It is not just the threat of arrest deterring the men from coming to the surface, our correspondent says.

The men do not want to relinquish the gold they have found. They are leaving gold underground because they know they will face a harsher jail term if found in possession of illegally mined gold.

Mining is a vital part of the South African economy and the country is the fourth-biggest gold exporter.

According to South Africa's Department of Mineral Resources, a 2008 study of the gold sector found that an estimated $509m (£309m) in revenue was lost a year as a result of illegal mining.

South Africa has some of the world's deepest gold mines and safety is a major issue.

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