Another four bodies of illegal “zama zama” gold miners have been recovered from a gold mine in the Free State, bringing to 29 the number killed in what is believed to have been an underground explosion.
Of the bodies retrieved, four have decomposed beyond recognition. The deaths occurred as a result of an explosion in a ventilation shaft 13km from Eland Shaft mine on May 11.
Free State police spokesperson Colonel Thandi Mbambo said most of the bodies retrieved by the mine security and rescue teams had identity tags.
“The deceased, who were found to be from neighbouring countries, are still to be positively identified. Others who were found to be completely decomposed will be identified through DNA comparison. Two have so far been positively identified by family members and have since been taken back to their country of origin.”
She added: “Although there are names and tags on their clothes, we still have to conduct DNA tests to verify and ascertain that the names are correct. We do not want to depend on the name tags and end up giving wrong bodies to wrong families.”
She said 11 people had been arrested and charged with illegal mining, trespassing and theft of mine property and would appear in court soon.
Yesterday the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) leader, Zwelinzima Vavi, said the growing number of zama zamas working in mines was “an extreme example of the way in which formal employment is giving way to unorganised, marginalised and desperate workers trying to survive by any means possible”.
“They risk their lives every time they go underground and, as well as getting no protection from health and safety laws, they face arrest if caught by the mine owners or police. Saftu demands that these super-exploited workers be legalised, trained and given the opportunity to work, with the same rights and conditions as all workers are entitled to. This however will never be acceptable to privately owned mining companies who are motivated solely by the drive to maximise profits.”
Pan Africanist Congress of Azania spokesperson Kenneth Mokgatlhe said the deaths were a demonstration that a black life is cheap.
“We do not want to know if they were illegal or not. What concerns us is that there is a massive loss of lives which we think was unnecessary. It could have been avoided if the state and mining companies skilled them and co-opted them to be professional miners with heightened level of security and safety,” said Mokgatlhe.