The exact number of “zama zamas” still trapped in an old abandoned mine in Langlaagte, Johannesburg, remains unknown.
The miners and part of an illegally operating group who tried to rescue them have not yet surfaced after being trapped underground by a fire.
On Sunday afternoon, friends and relatives gathered at the Gordon Harrison Park on Main Reef Road in Langlaagte demanding to be allowed to go down the shaft to rescue the miners themselves.
The last group of rescue operators returned empty-handed in the afternoon, postponing the search and rescue due to “unsafe conditions” in the shaft.
Mines Rescue Services CEO Christo de Klerk told journalists at the scene that the team, guided by one of the illegal miners, travelled for more than two hours down the shaft, encountered fumes from the fire and determined that it was unsafe to continue.
According to a security guard at the park, who did not want to be named, hundreds of illegal miners brave the trip down the gold mine shaft every week.
This particular group may have been there since Monday morning, but on Wednesday scores were left trapped underground when a fire broke out.
Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba arrived at the scene in the afternoon, where he was briefed by the rescue team.
He said he would approach national government to deal more effectively with the issue of abandoned mines and illegal mining, which he said was poorly dealt with. Police said that three people were arrested and faced illegal mining charges after they were rescued.
Police believe the group of miners could have gone underground on Wednesday.
A group of 16 “friends” of the trapped miners reportedly tried to rescue them on Thursday, but only eight of them re-emerged, leaving the other eight trapped with the rest of the miners.
Police spokesperson Kay Makhubela said the three who were arrested were found with mining equipment when they resurfaced. While some reports indicated that some of the trapped miners had already died, police were unable to confirm this. A stand-off occurred between the police and relatives of miners who resurfaced.
Two men emerged from the shaft and were taken to a police van, but their relatives threatened to shoot if they were not released. Police indicated that the men could not be released until they were questioned. – firstname.lastname@example.org