17 Feb 2014

Workers rescued from illegal mine

8:12 am on 17 February 2014

Rescuers in South Africa have been bringing to the surface illegal miners who had been trapped for more than 24 hours in an abandoned gold shaft near Johannesburg.

Twelve people had been rescued and were being medically checked and then handed over to police for questioning. There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries.

Rescuers bring one of the miners to the surface.

Rescuers bring one of the miners to the surface. Photo: AFP

A police patrol in the semi-rural Johannesburg suburb of Benoni, where gold has been mined for decades, had been alerted by shouts from the trapped miners, Reuters reports.

A crane was used to shift a large concrete slab obstructing the shaft belonging to the Chinese-owned bullion producer Gold One, which has prospecting rights to the mine but is not currently working it.

Rescue service spokesman Werner Vermaak said 12 had been rescued but an unknown number remained underground because they feared arrest.

Mr Vermaak initially said some of the trapped group had told rescuers that 200 more illegal diggers were deeper in the mine, and the exact number who remained was not known.

Illegal mining of abandoned shafts is common in South Africa, where informal miners excavate ore to sell, often living underground in dangerous and precarious conditions. Fatal accidents are common, and underground battles between rival groups have also been reported.

Gold One spokesman Grant Stuart said the miners dug a tunnel next to a ventilation shaft which collapsed behind them, adding that heavy rain may have triggered the collapse.

The company delisted last month from the Johannesburg and Australian bourses after all of its share capital was acquired by BCX Gold Investment Holdings, a Chinese consortium.