Artisanal miners trapped, rescued, arrested in SA

Monday, 17 February, 2014

Another story from the very difficult world of artisanal mining, this time via the Guardian, Reuters, and others. Otherwise short on detail because they couldn't interview the people involved, the Chicago Tribune's headline tells us the trapped men got a "cold drink" before being arrested

This came about because a group of miners, numbering anywhere from 11 to 22 depending on which reports you read, broke into a disused gold mine in Benoni, South Africa, a remote spot east of Johannesburg. Once in, according to some reports they were robbed by another gang who bricked them in with a concrete slab, leaving them trapped overnight. Other reports say the slab, placed over the entrance by the mine's owners, and which they had removed to get in, just fell back, trapping them.  The former account is not unbelievable: violence is an unfortunate characteristic of the illegal mining scene that carries across borders.

According to the Guardian version:

"Early reports had been of up to 200 people trapped underground. As dusk fell with just 11 rescued from the mine east of Johannesburg, officials admitted that they could not be certain whether there were more men still underground, refusing to be rescued because they feared prison."

They were rescued when a crane removed the slab, and reporters weren't allowed to interview them on exit, so reports are thin on personal testimony. They were arrested and taken away by police - and more police and private guards continued to watch over the exit in wait for an unknown number of other miners who, knowing they'd be arrested, wouldn't come up.

In the words of Reuters:

"Illegal mining of abandoned shafts is common in the gold mines around Johannesburg, with informal miners living underground in dangerous, cramped conditions for weeks on end as they dig out small parcels of gold-bearing ore.

Many are illegal migrants from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Lesotho. Fatal accidents are common, and underground battles between rival groups have also been reported.

Bullion producer Gold One, which owns the mine, had blocked the shaft with a large slab to prevent access but the illegal miners burrowed around it."