Family and friends of the so-called zama zamas trapped underground in an abandoned mine shaft at the George Harrison Park in Langlaagte were addressed by a community leader ahead of the possible recommencement of rescue efforts.
The Mining Rescue Services company returned to continue with the operation after carbon monoxide levels were deemed too dangerous earlier on Monday afternoon. The community leaders were pleading with the crowd to leave the site so officials could “do their work”. The crowd refused, and opted to sit in the park a few metres from the cordoned-off area.
Earlier, members of the community wanted to be allowed to perform the rescue themselves, but police refused. Some of the illegally operating miners who tried to rescue their colleagues over the weekend assisted rescue officials on Sunday and were expected to do the same on Monday afternoon. For some of the trapped miners, it had been at least six days that they had been trapped underground.
Families were fearing the worst as the hours rolled by with no one coming to the surface. At least 10 miners made it out of the shaft today, however, three of whom were arrested.
Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, who visited the site of Johannesburg’s oldest gold mine, appealed to the friends and family of the trapped miners not to try to rescue their loved ones themselves. But the crowds gathered at the scene were growing increasingly impatient, meeting with various community leaders, church leaders and officials from the Zimbabwean embassy to express their concerns.
Some of those in the crowd were experienced miners who had used the dangerous shaft before and were pleading with police earlier in the morning to involve them in the rescue mission, as they claimed they were better equipped to help out.
One said in isiZulu: “They cannot go in there with all that equipment, because those holes are very small where they are. They must just let us go in and we will find them and bring them back,” shouted one angry miner.
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But police spokesperson Kay Makhubela warned the edgy crowd that anyone who descended into the shaft and resurfaced would be arrested. Makhubela insisted this was for their safety. Zwane reiterated the warning that it was not safe for anyone to enter the shaft.
“As we speak to you, the rescue mission has been halted because of the situation on the ground – the smoke and the fire that is there is in the portion that we are alerted that the bodies are. We will be coming back on the site (when) the situation is conducive for the rescue mission to start and we want to ask the families that are affected to work together with the team that we have in here – it is in the best interest of everyone.”