Underground fire kills illegal miners
Independent Online -
Cape Town,South Africa
October 8, 2007
An underground fire has claimed the lives of 23 miners illegally working inside a disused shaft at the St Helena Mine, in Welkom, on the Free State Goldfields, police said on Sunday.
A number of illegal miners, known as "zama-zamas", were feared to have suffocated or burned to death while trapped underground by the fire - which they were thought to have started last month.
Rescue teams were not immediately able to reach the origin of the fire and several shafts were sealed to smother the flames, the Volksblad newspaper reported at the time.
Two groups of miners refused to surface, despite negotiations with Harmony Gold.
It was thought the miners had fled eastwards from the fire in the west to the working President Brand, President Steyn and Bambanani mines where they could get fresh air and a chance to make their way out.
Security at the mines was increased and 120 of the illegal miners were arrested when they surfaced last Monday, said Free State police spokesperson Superintendent Motantsi Makhele.
He said they had since appeared in court on a charge of trespassing.
Some of the miners returned to the mine on Sunday to look for the missing colleagues.
They brought eight bodies to the surface at 11.30am. Another 15 bodies were later recovered. All had been taken to the state mortuary in Welkom.
Makhele said Welkom detectives had opened inquest dockets.
"Some of these bodies can still be identified, while others were already beyond recognition due to the period they spent underground," he said.
"Post-mortems will be conducted on them, as well as some forensic tests on those which can't be identified."
He said the bodies would be available for viewing at the mortuary from Tuesday.
Provincial Commissioner Amon Mashigo said the illegal miners had no records and were possibly from neighbouring countries including Lesotho and Mozambique.