A Free State gold
mine not far from where
at least 86 illegal
miners lost their lives
in an underground fire
 
Johannesburg, South Africa — MININGREVIEW.COM — 15 June 2009 – The South African government – together with labour unions and mine operators such as Harmony Gold Mining Company – has agreed to co-operate in fighting illegal mining, in the wake of an underground fire in a disused Free State mine shaft last month in which at least 86 miners last their lives.

“The death of these miners is very tragic,” said minerals department spokesman Jeremy Michaels in an interview with Bloomberg News. “The government will not allow or condone illicit mining – we are therefore determined to crack down on this problem once and for all.”

Michaels added that the government had set up a team to tackle the problem after talks last week with the trade unions, as well as companies such as Harmony Gold Mining Company, Pamodzi Gold Limited, Gold Fields Limited and African Rainbow Minerals Limited, which all operate in Free State province. Harmony has been recovering bodies of suspected illegal miners from its disused Eland shaft since 29 May.

“We view this problem very, very seriously,” National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) Secretary-General Frans Baleni said in a telephone interview with Bloomberg News. “We are concerned that poor safety practices by unlawful workers make mines unsafe for their members and hurt the economy,” Baleni added.

“The newly-formed taskforce will assess the extent of illegal mining, review current policies and make recommendations,” he said.

More than 290 suspected illegal miners have been arrested at Harmony’s mines in recent weeks. Since January, 77 of the company’s own employees were also detained for alleged involvement in the unlawful practice, according to a company spokesperson.