Cosatu has on Monday called on government and the mining industry employer body to look into the possibility of regulating independent small-scale mining.
The call comes in the wake of an increase in dangerous illegal mining activities at disused and abandoned mines. South Africa has as many as 6 000 such mines around the country.
The federation said people risked their lives accessing dangerous disused mineshafts not because of greed but the desperation to make a living.
“It is now obvious that focusing on criminalisation of the independent small-scale mining, when there are millions of unemployed people desperately looking for jobs, is not the solution,” Cosatu said in a statement.
“The federation is calling on the Chamber of Mines and government to explore the possibility of legalising and regulating the small-scale mining as a way of minimising dangers, and also removing the criminal elements that send some of these desperate people underground without taking any safety precautions.”
Illegal miners access dangerous and unstable disused mineshafts in which they spend months on end looking for minerals such as gold.
Over the years scores of illegal miners have been killed while underground. Some of the deaths were a result of warring gangs fighting for territory. Toxic gases were also a cause of deaths.
Cosatu’s call for action comes in the wake of an unfolding disaster at an unused goldmine shaft at Langlaagte, south of Johannesburg.
Last week, a group of illegal miners entered the mine and have been trapped inside since. On Friday at least four men managed to get out of the mine. On Monday three illegal miners crawled out of the mine and were taken to hospital.
Unconfirmed reports said as many as 16 men were known to have entered the mine. Apparently they had to crawl up seven metres through a tiny opening to access the mine.
Rescue operations have been limited because the rescuers can not fit into the hole with their equipment. It has been deemed too dangerous to enter the hole without breathing equipment.
– African News Agency (ANA)