South Africa illegal mining: Bodies found in Benoni mine

As Nomsa Maseko reports, one body has been recovered from the mine

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The bodies of two illegal miners have been discovered at a disused mine east of Johannesburg in South Africa.

The abandoned mine is in the same area where more than 20 illegal miners were recently rescued after being trapped underground for several days.

Those miners, who were reportedly trapped by a rival group of illegal miners, were arrested after they emerged from the shaft.

They are due to appear in court on charges related to illegal mining.

The land around the town of Benoni near Johannesburg is dotted with disused mine shafts, which attract men from around the region, including Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, with the promise of remaining gold deposits.

Start Quote

If another group finds you underground they make you work for them at gunpoint, like a slave. So we go underground armed”

End Quote Illegal miner in South Africa
Cries for help

The BBC's Nomsa Maseko in Benoni says the two miners who died are believed to have been killed following a rockfall several days ago.

They were discovered by other illegal miners who went underground to search for them after they were missing for about a week, she says.

The illegal miners say the police refused to help bring up the bodies, saying it was too dangerous.

So they brought up one to the surface themselves on Tuesday morning, but the other body - believed to be of a Zimbabwean man - remains underground.

The group of trapped illegal miners was discovered on Sunday morning when police heard cries for help while patrolling the area.

They removed the boulders which had been put over the mine shaft.

Illegal miners pulling out the body of a dead miner from a mine shaft in Benoni, South Africa As the body was pulled out of the shaft, the other miners started singing in mourning for their dead friend
Emergency workers attempt to free trapped illegal miners at a disused gold mine shaft near, Benoni, Feb. 16 The trapped miners were discovered over the weekend and were arrested when they emerged

A total of 25 men have since been rescued and arrested, David Tshabalala, from the emergency medical care service ER24, said on Tuesday.

It is not clear if more illegal miners, known as "zama zamas" meaning hustlers, are still underground at the site.

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 employed in industry 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)

Paramedics initially said 200 illegal miners remained trapped but the latest figures put the numbers at much lower, at just over 10.

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

Our correspondent says there is fierce rivalry underground between the illegal miners, who often work with their fellow countrymen in groups.

"If another group finds you underground they make you work for them at gunpoint, like a slave. So we go underground armed," one illegal miner told the BBC.

Some of the men who resurfaced on Sunday and Monday were leaving their gold underground because they knew they would 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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