Teen tells of mineshaft hell

Johannesburg - He had hoped to make some quick money to send back to his family in Zimbabwe, but now 17-year-old Themba Mlambo realises that illegal mining is too dangerous a game for him.

The Zimbabwean teenager was one of a few illegal miners to survive the accident at an unused mineshaft near Grootvlei mine near Springs last Monday, The Star reported on Tuesday.

The tunnel to the mine will be sealed off and the bodies of at least 20 people will be left underground because rescuers decided that it was too dangerous to attempt retrieving the bodies.  It is uncertain, though, how many went down the mine.

Earlier this year, Mlambo had left his carpentry job for Shaft 13 because he had heard that he would make some quick cash.

“I would always see other guys boasting about the money they made there. They would say they made between R5 000 and R7 000 in two days,” he said as he lay on his hospital bed.

'Rocks are falling!'

On his first day in the mine last month, Mlambo made R600.

The shaft they entered had been sealed shut, but he said “grenades” were used to blast it open.

When Mlambo went underground last Monday with a group of about 30 people, they were equipped with food, tools and batteries for torches. Some of the group were as young as 14, he told The Star.

They had been underground for just a few hours when someone screamed down the dark shaft: “Rocks are falling, rocks are falling!”

Then rocks began to tumble around Mlambo. “The top of the mine was vibrating. Suddenly everyone started to run, screaming and being hit by rocks.

“I was running when I tripped and fell. Then a rock hit me on my back, it was so big that I could not stand up, I was trapped under it.”

Around him lay dead miners.

Syndicates

Two fellow illegal miners, also rushing to escape the rockfall, came across Mlambo and pulled him from under the rock and carried him to safety outside.

Normally, when the miners returned to the surface, people would be waiting at the entrance to buy the gold.

Frans Baleni, general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, told The Star illegal mining was fuelled by big syndicates who were in cahoots with some mine managers. He said the syndicates would bribe mine managers to provide information about where gold could be found in abandoned shafts.

The shafts would initially have been shut down after management had decided that they would be too costly to mine.

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