Feb. 18 (Bloomberg) -- The bodies of two illegal miners were found today at a site near the abandoned South African gold mine where 25 other men surfaced over the past three days.
Rescue workers retrieved the body of one miner close to an opening that leads to an old mine, Rudi Nieuwoudt, a safety manager at Benoni Gold Mining Co., said today by phone. The body of a second person was located further underground, he said.
The opening was on public land next to Benoni Gold’s property in the Gauteng province’s Ekurhuleni municipality, about 35 kilometers (22 miles) east of Johannesburg, and 3 kilometers from the New Kleinfontein gold mine, where the others were trapped underground from Feb. 15.
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.
Three illegal miners emerged earlier today from an old shaft at the New Kleinfontein gold mine, Grant Stuart, a spokesman for Gold One International Ltd., said by phone. This brings the number of miners rescued at the site since Feb. 16 to 25, Stuart said. Gold One holds prospecting rights to the area even though it never operated the disused infrastructure.
“They told us there were no-one further waiting to exit,” Stuart said. The miners at New Kleinfontein initially said there were more than 200 people trapped, a figure that was more indicative of the total number of illegal operators working underground at various connected mines in the area, he said.
Gold One will patrol the site at New Kleinfontein until March 3, when it will permanently close the entrance, he said.
Police were closing in on a syndicate they believed was responsible for illegal mining, Paul Ramaloko, a spokesman for an anti-corruption task team of the South African Police Service that’s known as the Hawks, said by phone.
“With the level of cooperation we are getting from the illegal miners, it will help,” Ramaloko said. “Illegal mining is definitely on the rise.”
The 22 miners rescued Feb. 16 and yesterday at New Kleinfontein today appeared in a court on charges of illegal mining, Ramaloko said.
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