NUM warns of illegal mining disaster

By Drum Digital
23 February 2014

A major tragedy is looming in disused mines if government does not take decisive action to curb thriving illegal mining, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said.

"We have been urging the ministers of police and mines to improve on their intelligence side," NUM general secretary Frans Baleni told reporters in Johannesburg.

"These [illegal miners] are just troopers, the network is really big. There is going to be a big disaster one day, we will not be talking about the death of nine people."

He said government needed to be proactive and eliminate the top people in these networks.

"The illegal miners smoke and do all sorts of things like burning [processing] the gold underground."

Baleni said it was highly dangerous to have open flames underground due to the existence of methane.

He said the syndicates have become brazen, well organised and armed.

"They now include a number of players from the region. It's a well organised syndicate. People like geologists are recruited and they operate in a particular command structure, when one crosses them they give a death sentence.

"They are even threatening women working underground now. Sex underground is very expensive - about R3 000 for a session.

"Police cannot go underground because their insurance does not cover them there," said Baleni.

He said some union leaders had received death threats for speaking against the illegal mining syndicates.

Baleni was briefing reporters following the conclusion of a two the union's national executive committee (NEC) meeting held this week.

The NEC urged mining companies to set aside funds for the rehabilitation and closure of abandoned mine shafts.

On Friday, Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu said more needed to be done to prevent illegal miners from reopening disused mines.

This followed the rescue operation to remove illegal miners from the abandoned Gold One mine shaft in Benoni, on the East Rand.

The miners were found when Ekurhuleni metro police on patrol heard screaming from the abandoned mine.

A rival group had thrown boulders down the open mine shaft, trapping them underground, according to paramedics at the time.

The mineral resources department, through the council of geoscience, sealed 130 holes and shafts, and 51 were sealed by mines operating in the area.

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