More illegal miners surfaced at an abandoned South African gold mine today as rescuers expressed doubt over a report that 200 people were trapped underground.
Thirteen people emerged with the help of emergency services this morning bringing the total rescued to 24, Luyanda Majija, a spokeswoman for ER24 emergency-rescue service, said by phone.
The operation was halted yesterday after police arrested 11 people who had been hoisted out and others refused to come up the shaft for fear of being apprehended, according to ER24. The miners initially said there were 200 people trapped, a figure that “might have been exaggerated” to guarantee rescue, Majija said.
The miners became trapped on Feb. 15 after boulders plugged the entrance to the mine that’s near Benoni, about 35 kilometers (21 miles) east of Johannesburg. The blockage may have been caused intentionally by a rival mining gang, ER24 said earlier today, citing the police.
Illegal mining is common in South Africa, the world’s sixth-largest producer of gold. The practice costs the country 6 billion rand ($552 million) a year, Mining Minister Susan Shabangu said in July, citing a 2010 study. Miners open sealed shafts to gain access to near-exhausted gold mines in the hope of finding bullion-bearing ore, which has been mined in Johannesburg since 1886.
“They must volunteer to come up,” Katlego Mogale, a police spokeswoman, said by phone. “They can’t be forced.” The 11 miners will be charged tomorrow, Mogale said.
When contact was first made with the trapped men yesterday, indications were that 230 of them were trapped in the 150-meter (492-foot) mine shaft, ER24 said at the time.
They were able to communicate and were given water, according to the emergency service. The men were discovered yesterday by police patrolling the area who heard screaming from the abandoned mine, Vermaak said.
South Africa, which has the continent’s biggest economy, will have to spend about $2.7 billion to clean up its almost 6,000 abandoned mines, the WWF, formerly known as the World Wide Fund for Nature, said in a 2012 report.
Gold One International Ltd., owned by Chinese-backed BCX Gold, holds prospecting rights to the area and isn’t operating the mine where the people were trapped, spokesman Grant Stuart said by phone. The company bought the rights in 2002 by acquiring legal entity New Kleinfontein Gold Mine (Pty) Ltd., which has been in operation since 1886, he said.