JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – The Chamber of Mines (CoM) on Friday said it is deeply concerned that 31 people have died in what appears to have been an underground methane explosion at the closed Eland mine shaft, in the Free State.
This follows an investigation into the death of 11 illegal miners, whose bodies were pulled from the mine on May 15. More bodies have since been recovered.
“Deep-level underground mining requires a vast investment of funds and technology, as well as knowledge, expertise and the right equipment. Illegal mining in such deep-level shafts, where no protective measures are in place, can be exceptionally dangerous and, unfortunately, often lethal,” the CoM said in a statement.
The statement further said that mining companies put considerable effort into rendering nonoperational shafts safe, including by completely blocking access to the shafts.
“That illegal miners then force entry to them is an ongoing challenge.”
Illegal mining – in which high-level and international syndicates are the primary beneficiaries – remain a significant challenge for mining companies, government and the South African Police Service, as well as communities, who often bear the brunt of many of its associated social ills.
“The Eland shaft tragedy is a terrible reminder of the dangers of unregulated, illegal mining,” said the CoM.
The Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources, meanwhile, welcomed the arrest of 13 men suspected of illegal mining activities at the mine.
“We would like to wish the rescue team well in their quest to recover all the remaining bodies. We also appeal to those who were arrested following the explosion, as well as others with information, to work with law enforcement agencies to expose the ring leaders,” committee chairperson Sahlulele Luzipo said.
Luzipo has called on the investigating agencies to strengthen their capacity to be able to deal with the root causes of illegal mining.