Death of 31 illegal miners a painful reminder of the dangers involved


South Africa’s Chamber of Mines said it was deeply concerned, after 31 people were killed in an underground methane explosion at a closed mine in the Free State.

The mine had previously been owned by Harmony Gold, but was subsequently shut down. Those killed by this explosion were mining illegally, and are commonly referred to as Zama Zamas. Every time they take part in this activity, it isn’t just about the legalities involved, it is also about the extreme risk involved in trying extract wealth from the earth with limited means.

In this particular instance, the victims had been mining the old Eland shaft, which was mined to 3000 metres when it was still operational.

Chamber of Mines President, Mike Teke  said: “Deep level underground mining  requires a vast investment of funds and technology, as well as knowledge, expertise and the right equipment. Illegal mining in such deep level shafts where no protective measures are in place can be exceptionally dangerous and, unfortunately, often lethal.”

“Mining companies put considerable effort into rendering non-operational shafts safe, including (as in this case) by completely blocking access to the shafts. That illegal miners then force entry to them is an ongoing challenge,” added Teke.

“Illegal mining – in which high-level and international syndicates are the primary beneficiaries – remains a significant challenge for companies, government and the SAPS, as well as communities, who often bear the brunt of many of its associated social ills.

“The Chamber acknowledges that poverty and the lack of alternative opportunities is often at the root of illegal mining activities, and that much more needs to be done to ensure that the benefits of legitimate mining activities reach local and labour-sending communities. The Chamber of Mines has also been engaging with the DMR and other parties to see how small and emerging miners can be assisted in becoming part of a legitimate and vibrant junior mining sector.”

“The Eland shaft tragedy is a terrible reminder of the dangers of unregulated, illegal mining.”