Johannesburg, South Africa — MININGREVIEW.COM — 05 June 2009 – The bodies of 15 more illegal miners have been brought to the surface, raising the death toll in a fire at a disused gold mine in the Free State to at least 76.
Minister of mining Susan Shabangu has described the tragedy as the worst in recent memory at an illicit mine in South Africa, and vowed after her visit to the site to fight the kingpins behind the illegal gold mining syndicates.
The unauthorised miners were killed after a fire they are thought to have started raged for days at the abandoned mine owned by Harmony Gold in the central Free State province, where many disused mines hold enough deposits to attract illegal mining syndicates.
“Another 15 bodies were brought up today by their fellow illegal miners,” said senior Harmony spokesman Tom Smith. “Anything is possible,” he added, when asked if he knew whether more bodies were likely to be recovered.
The previous death toll on Tuesday stood at 61.
Gold prices near record highs have made the risks taken by well-organised illegal mining syndicates even more worthwhile. Reuters reports that miners, most of them illegal immigrants, break through concrete seals covering closed shafts. Sometimes they sneak past security or bribe guards and stay underground for months digging for gold, before leaving by shafts several kilometres away.
The miners in this latest tragedy died at Eland shaft near the town of Welkom, in a part of the mine that runs to depths of up to 1.4 km. South Africa – the world’s third biggest gold producing country – has the world’s deepest gold shafts.
Harmony – the world’s No. 5 gold producing company – is particularly exposed to plundering by illegal miners, because it was built on a strategy of buying old, unwanted gold shafts and mines.
These mines soon ran out of commercially viable amounts of gold and were abandoned.
There are no official figures to quantify the value of gold mined by the illegal syndicates.