Almost 100 people have now died as a result of illegal mining activities this year alone, after 20 trespassing miners were killed at gold junior Pan African's Consort mine, in Barberton, in March.
Illegal mining in South Africa has been taking place for a number of years, but is intensifying with the higher gold price. In 2007, 23 illegal miners were killed in an underground fire in a disused shaft of the St Helena Mine, also in the Free State.
In the past two weeks, 294 illegal miners have been brought to surface at the Harmony shaft. These people were charged and will be criminally prosecuted.
Chamber of Mines CEO Mzolisi Diliza said on Wednesday that illegal activities continued to undermine the industry's initiatives to put in place safety measures. South Africa's mining sector has reported 74 deaths this year.
Mining Minister Susan Shabangu said earlier in the week that South Africa would intensify its fight against illegal mining, which is believed to be linked to syndicates.
"It is clear that we are dealing with organised crime, with syndicates that are running intricate operations involving hundreds of people, who not only bribe security guards to enter old mine shafts and stay underground for weeks and even months, but go as far as melting gold in disused mines. We will leave no stone unturned in the hunt for these ruthless bosses,” she said, after visiting the Welkom mine where the bodies were recovered.
She described illegal mining as a threat to the mining industry and the economy.
Meanwhile, the South African Press Association (Sapa) reported that the Free State police had taken in six people for questioning in connection with investigations into illegal mining on Wednesday.
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