Teen tells of mineshaft hell

2012-03-13 12:17

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.


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.

  • Tony Lapson - 2012-03-13 12:26

    Gold is a shiny rock? It may be malleable and considered valuable, but the only real world use it has lies in jewelry and certain technologies. We truly are a primitive species. It baffles me to think that our economy is so dependent on it.

      tony.delucchi - 2012-03-13 13:02 is more than just a shiny rock. What these fellows do is dangerous, I would not do it even if it was an official working mine!

      Tony Lapson - 2012-03-13 13:15

      "gold is more than just a shiny rock." Let's imagine you live in a world of a species more intelligent than humans. Imagine you hold, in your possession, all of the gold in the world. What use is gold to you? Build a rust-proof gold house? Will you eat it when you are starving? Will anyone trade you your gold, for goods even if they can't do anything with it besides make jewelry? Gold only has purpose in technology with its conductivity and corrosive resistant properties. Ofcourse I am talking about a near-perfect world where humans aren't stupid.

      Vaal-Donkie - 2012-03-13 13:21

      It's also the reserve currency of the world.

      Carol - 2012-03-13 13:25

      Currency is backed by it.

      Tony Lapson - 2012-03-13 13:30

      Yes, it is well known that currency backs the world economy, but why? It's because our ancestors valued it greatly mostly because it was hard to come by and lasted a very long time. Tell me again why it is so valued?

      Tony Lapson - 2012-03-13 13:32

      Meant to say "gold backs the economy" not currency.

      Gordon - 2012-03-13 15:15

      Carol - Err... no... no currency in the world is backed by it. Where have you been for the last 40 years. only the swiss franc carries a 40% backing in gold.

  • Jerolan - 2012-03-13 12:28

    lucky escape young man - hope you realise that there is no such thing as a quick buck

      alansmartSnr - 2012-03-13 15:08

      @Jerolan.. don't think people realize that underground the "gold" is just a dark pebblerish stone reef which has to be chisseld or blasted out. The reef is most times only a few inches thick. To advance one has to blast at least 1 meter of rock of which about 80% is just waste rock. After that there is a complicated chemical process to extract the real gold. My point is that these Zama Zamas only take out the ore and rock and sell that. My point is that it is highly unlikely to make R5000 per day, actually impossible. As for the R600 made in the first day is BS. Any miner would know that. I happen to have programmed reclemation of Madala sides (Old Areas) for Anglo for several years. Good reporting - but bad source

  • Hendrik - 2012-03-13 12:32

    Who's fault is it, the people waiting in front to buy the gold? The mine managers? The syndicates? The rescuers? The other guys? NO, it is you're own fault. There is no reason for killing, stealing, raping - it's in you or not, there is no reason in the will to make you do illegal things just YOU.

      Tony Lapson - 2012-03-13 12:54

      You, sir, are completely wrong. Everything decision you make in life is based on your experiences, and your own enterpretation of what it means to be alive. Do you live in a society where you have fight for survival? Where you are taught that acquisition of material objects, beyond basic needs, is proof of your worth? Where you can look down at a suffering person and simply shrug it off because it would be a financial inconvenience to help? This person, as young as he may be, comes from a hard background. He, too, dreams of a life without worries. He doesn't want to starve to death before he makes a living, and he doesn't want to be in exactly the same position when he is in his 70's.

      Peter - 2012-03-13 14:29

      Take it easy Tony. All hard working Zimbo's. Tragic, R.I.P.

      Tony Lapson - 2012-03-13 14:45

      I was supporting the guys. They are merely victims of a greedy society and were simply 'born' into their desperate situation. They knew the risks were real.

  • Tony Lapson - 2012-03-13 12:35

    The way we value gold isn't due to instincts or genes. It is the environment and society we grow up in. Just as a business man, who generates massive profits, while employing underpaid workers in a third world country, is praised as a respected success story. Just as a corrupt government official who gets away with stealing millions is admired and dismissed. We have shaped our world, we have shaped our Demise.

  • Thoka - 2012-03-13 12:38

    costly lesson unfortunately<<

  • Mark - 2012-03-13 12:44

    SA - the land of quick cash! Catchy that, maybe they can offer he, and his family, positions in Tourism who took a while, and no doubt a pile of cash, before coming up with our current slogan, which I forget. Must admit that the idea of grenades spooked me but probably better that they're throwing them around in disused mine shafts than at ATM's.....

  • GTR2 - 2012-03-13 13:00

    Well good for you, hope you realised now that illegal mining makes you a criminal.

  • Schmee - 2012-03-13 13:13

    Obviously I was wrong when I understood that security were looking after the abandoned mine. I can understand miners sneaking past security into the mine but how is it possible that the buyers stand out in the open like that?

  • Trudi - 2012-03-13 13:19

    My bother is a mine captain and he says that there are thousands Of the illegal miners in South Africa. Reguk Lar miners that can smuggle food an D cigarettes down get thousands of Rands for the goods No wonder they do not show the authorities where they are. They stay there for months! What a life!

  • Stan - 2012-03-13 13:20

    perhaps he must go HOME and think about this....

      Besil - 2012-03-13 14:27

      home is worse than what he experienced Stan!

  • valcooperRSA - 2012-03-13 13:36

    Well now that this youngster has decided that what he did was not only illegal but very dangerous as well....has he considered going back to where he came from...then he can go carry out his illegal activities back home

  • Maria - 2012-03-13 13:36

    I know of a youngster (21 years) who left his full time employment to do illegal mining at this shaft in Springs. He was caught last year and spent 6 months in jail. I heard he was back at the same shaft this year doing what seemed to be easy money. I wonder if he is not amongst the dead at this shaft...... His friends told me that these youngsters go down and spend weeks at a time digging for gold before surfacing again. Sad......

  • Deon - 2012-03-13 13:42

    When something is too good to be true it usally is. He is no hero but a thief.

  • Zion - 2012-03-13 13:56

    When you have to carry a work mate out of a mining area and the guy is nothing more than tenderised steak then you start thinking about your own future. And on arriving at surface you remind yourself that tomorrow is another day and the children have to go to school. You go underground again. You cannot eat gold but it sure helps to buy food with and pay the car at the end of the month.

  • Gavin - 2012-03-13 14:34

    All that glitters is not gold. Thank God you can't mine air, otherwise we'd be really screwed.

  • sean.looney - 2012-03-13 14:37

    the thing that concerned me the most about this story was the fact that they managed to gain access to grenades!

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