South African Gold Mine Collapse: As Many As 200 Workers Hiding in Mine, Fearing Arrest

February 18, 2014

As many as 200 illegal miners who are reportedly trapped in an abandoned gold shaft east of Johannesburg are refusing to be rescued, afraid that they will be arrested if the come out, according to officials. The miners were working illegally at the abandoned South African mine when it collapsed on Saturday morning. 

Those fears were confirmed Monday morning. Some of those who emerged from the shaft thought police had left the site but were quickly arrested by hiding officers, according to a Euro News report.

In all, about 25 of the miners have come out of the shaft so far, according to the Associated Press. Three of those 25 came up on Tuesday.

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"Should they have a change of heart and mind, they then have at least some access to get out of the shaft," Du Plooy said.

He said he didn't know how many people were still in the shaft. Earlier, reports said more than 200 miners had been trapped. But the ones who emerged were tightlipped about the colleagues they left behind, apparently concerned about trouble with the police.

"They don't want to give away too much information," Du Plooy said. It was unclear how long the holdouts, who seemed to have few options, planned to prolong their stay in the mine.

The miners were believed to have been trapped since Saturday morning and police patrolling in the area heard their screams for help, the South African Press Association reported.

Rescue teams arriving at the scene were able to speak to about 30 miners near the top of the old shaft, whose entrance was covered by a large rock, the news agency said. Those miners said as many as 200 others were trapped further down a steep tunnel at the mine in Benoni, on the outskirts of South Africa's biggest city.

Illegal mining is common in South Africa, a major producer of gold and platinum. Workers brave unsafe conditions below ground amid reports of the involvement of organized crime and even clashes between rival groups seeking to extract precious metal from the shafts.

Illegal mining remains a serious concern, despite progress in curbing it, South Africa's mineral resources department said in a statement. It attributed the improvement to "illegal mining forums," in which stakeholders in the mining industry seal open shafts and seek to detain illegal miners.

Some analysts say the problem could increase if legal mines close or downsize, forcing skilled workers who have lost their jobs to turn to illegal activities. South Africa's mining industry, a pillar of the economy, is struggling with rising costs. Tens of thousands of workers in the platinum sector are currently on strike.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report

MORE: Fascinating Images of America's Abandoned Mines

Old metallic parts to machinery litter the lawn of an abandoned cabin in Bannack, Mont. (Flickr/Nomadic Lass)

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