The tragic plight of the illegal miners trapped underground at Langlaagte, Johannesburg’s oldest mine, should be as painful to all South Africans as the circumstances that led to undertaking the hazardous journey into dangerous disused shafts for a sparse sprinkling of gold dust.
Legal mining, as strictly legislated as it may be, is a hazardous enough occupation. The tragedy of the trapped miners at Lily Mine near Barberton in February brought home those dangers to all of us. Yet the rise in the numbers of illegal miners – the zama zamas – willing to challenge the uncertainties of antiquated and patently unsafe abandoned shafts multiplies those risks exponentially.
The illegal miners have embraced the clearly unacceptable odds underground to bring some financial relief in an economy groaning from stress and the spillage of people unable to escape the drowning pool of massive unemployment, for which there is no immediately apparent outlet. There is no quick fix.
It would be impossible to police the number of shafts the mining companies – many of them no longer in existence – have sealed and left to lie fallow like potentially toxic seeds across the reaches of the Reef. Add human desperation and mankind’s innate ingenuity into the mix and illegal mining should not surprise us.
That does not make it any less shocking or less heartbreaking for the relatives of the zama zamas when the lure of gold traps miners and a fire breaks out to hamper rescue operations.
Johannesburg was built on gold and the city’s assumed title, Egoli, underlines that. It is a savage indictment that the precious metal that gave life to the streets above should, in a seemingly enlightened democracy where mineworkers are no longer treated as numbered chattels, echo the old, evil systems.
READ MORE HERE>> Efforts to save unauthorised miners continue