Johannesburg, South Africa — MININGREVIEW.COM — 02 June 2009 – Harmony Gold Mining Company – Africa’s third-biggest producer of the metal – says at least 36 illegal miners have died in an underground fire at one of the company’s disused mines, adding that it was too dangerous to search for other victims.
In a company statement issued here, Harmony said the bodies had been carried up over the last two days by fellow illegal miners who had reported the underground fire. It added that 294 other miners had been brought to the surface and arrested at its Eland shaft, in the central Free State, where the fire had broken out.
The company – which is the world’s fifth largest gold producer – could not say if more of the miners, whom it described as criminals, had died, and said it did not plan to send its employees on underground searches.
“It is not known if other criminal miners have died, and the company says it will not deploy its own employees on underground searches, as the abandoned mining areas where the criminal miners have been active are extremely dangerous,” the Harmony statement added.
Harmony said it had tightened security to prevent people from illegally entering its mines in South Africa, which has some of the world’s deepest and most dangerous mines. About a 10th of the gold mined in the country is stolen every year, according to the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies.
In 2007 the government held talks with mining companies about security after 23 illegal miners had died in a fire at Harmony’s St. Helena operation – then the worst incident of its kind in South Africa.
In March, Harmony revealed that 114 illegal miners – including 19 of its own employees – had been arrested at eight of its mines.