Bodies of 42 illegal miners found in South Africa

June 1st, 2009 - 11:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Johannesburg, June 1 (DPA) The bodies of 42 illegal miners, who are believed to have suffocated when a fire broke out underground at a gold mine in South Africa, have been recovered, police said Monday.
Harmony Gold, the world’s fifth-largest gold producer, said in a statement that 36 illegal miners had died underground at its Eland shaft in central Free State province at the weekend.

“The bodies of 36 criminal miners have been brought to surface at the shaft during the past weekend by fellow criminal miners, reportedly following an underground fire in an abandoned area,” Harmony said.

Police captain Stephen Thakeng told DPA the bodies of six more people had been found in another part of the mine.

Mining companies and South African police are cracking down on illegal gold mining - especially prevalent when gold prices are high.

Illegal miners operate in very risky conditions because they ply disused parts of the mine that are no longer maintained and where noxious gases collect.

Marian Van der Walt, a spokeswoman for Harmony, said some illegal miners had notified the company about a fire underground. The dead miners had probably suffocated because of lack of oxygen, van der Walt, said.

Over the past two weeks, 294 criminal miners have been brought to surface at Eland mine and charged, Harmony said.

Thakeng said the illegal miners were usually from South Africa itself or from neighbouring Lesotho and Mozambique. Both Lesotho and Mozambique have for decades supplied workers to gold mines in South Africa, the world’s third-largest gold producing country, after China and the US.

In 2007, 23 illegal miners died in an underground fire, also in Free State province.

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