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Apr 5 2012 6:44AM
Business as usual as illegal miners return to death trap
IN THE DARK: Illegal mining continues. Picture: GALLO IMAGES
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Abram Mashego

Illegal mining in the Gravelotte Mine appears to be continuing despite several miners recently being trapped beneath the ground and left for dead.

The rescue team involved at the time abandoned the search, citing unstable terrain that posed a danger to the rescuers.

The trapped miners are presumed dead and buried in the mine. Officials at the time indicated that the mine tunnel would be sealed. This has not yet happened.

Elvis Maloka, who lives in Lindelani informal settlement close to the mine, said although there was a decrease of illicit mining shortly after the tragic rockfall, illegal mining was back to business as usual.

“We see them going underneath and it is public knowledge that if proper control mechanisms are not put in place, more people will die,” said a community member.

Solidarity spokesperson Moira Kloppers said the union was aware that the uninterrupted illegal mining activities in the mine had claimed the lives of 20 people in March.

Yesterday, a rescue team was at the scene where at least 20 illegal miners died in a mine tunnel running between the Grootvlei and the Gravelotte mines on the East Rand, between Springs and Benoni.

Kloppers said the fact that the police were also not doing their part in preventing illegal mining was a major challenge.

“Recently a rescue team came across a body of a man trapped under a huge rock. A few metres away at least 32 people were mining.

“The rescue team called the police but they did not even show up. The members of the rescue team then took it upon themselves to call the miners out, warning them that the place was going to be sealed off,” she said.

Kloppers said only four illegal miners heeded their warning and came out while the rest continued mining.

About 400 people are thought to be involved in the illegal gold mining operations at Gravelotte Mine. There are several abandoned shafts at the mine that can be accessed from nearby bushes. Security personnel cannot easily detect the intruders, who sometimes enter the shafts at night.

National Union of Mineworkers spokesperson Frans Baleni yesterday blamed law enforcement agencies and the lack of environmental regulations policies.

“It is required that after mining activity has been stopped, an environmental assessment is done to ensure compliance. The shafts were supposed to be sealed off and rehabilitation process was supposed to have taken place,” Baleni said.

Baleni said the police should be arresting any illegal miners found digging in the shafts. Efforts by The New Age to get comment from the Department of Mineral Resources were fruitless.

At the time of going to press, the department’s spokesperson, Zingaphi Jakuja, had not responded to a list of questions.

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