A gold miner points to gold he found in the Dagua River in Zaragoza, Colombia, Wednesday, July 8, 2009. Several families make a living by sifting through the silt of Dagua River in search for gold which they sell for US$20 per gram. (AP Photo/Christian Escobar Mora)
Chamber of Mines president, Mike Teke, extends the chamber’s condolences to the families of the deceased following a methane explosion at a closed mine.

The Chamber of Mines is deeply concerned that 31 people have died in what appears to have been an underground methane explosion at a closed mine in the Free State.

Deep level underground mining (the Eland shaft was mined to a depth of 3 000 m when it was operational) 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.

Mining companies put considerable effort into rendering non-operational shafts safe, including (as in this case) 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 – remains a significant challenge for companies, government and the SAPS, as well as communities, who often bear the brunt of many of its associated social ills.

The Chamber of Mines acknowledges that poverty and the lack of alternative opportunities is often at the root of illegal mining activities, and that much more needs to be done to ensure that the benefits of legitimate mining activities reach local and labour-sending communities.

The Chamber of Mines has also been engaging with the Department of Mineral Resources and other parties to see how small and emerging miners can be assisted in becoming part of a legitimate and vibrant junior mining sector.

The Eland shaft tragedy is a terrible reminder of the dangers of unregulated, illegal mining.

Rescue teams travelled between 20 to 25 km from the St Helena to the Elands shaft to retrieve the bodies out of the abyss. Most of the bodies were in advanced stages of decomposition. The miners, mostly aged between 30 and 35, are believed to be from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Lesotho.

Eleven miners handed themselves to police. Some of them had been working underground since 2015.