The Chamber of Mines said on Friday it was deeply concerned that 31 people have died in what appears to have been an underground methane explosion at Eland Shaft mine in Welkom, a closed mine in the Free State.
Free State police have said that the preliminary investigation indicated that the deaths was as a result of an explosion that occurred at a ventilation shaft about 13km from Eland Shaft mine on May 11.
Chamber of Mines president, Mike Teke, said in a statement that deep level underground mining required a vast investment of funds and technology, as well as knowledge, expertise and the right equipment.
The Eland shaft was mined to a depth of 3 000 metres when it was operational.
Teke said illegal mining in such deep level shafts where no protective measures are in place can be exceptionally dangerous and, unfortunately, often lethal.
Mining companies usually put considerable effort into rendering non-operational shafts safe, including by completely blocking access to the shafts.
Teke said that illegal miners then force entry to them was an ongoing challenge.
“Illegal mining – in which high-level and international syndicates are the primary beneficiaries – remains a significant challenge for companies, government and the SAPS, as well as communities, who often bear the brunt of many of its associated social ills,” Teke said.
“The Chamber acknowledges that poverty and the lack of alternative opportunities is often at the root of illegal mining activities, and that much more needs to be done to ensure that the benefits of legitimate mining activities reach local and labour-sending communities.”
Teke said the Chamber had also been engaging with the Department of Mineral Resources and other parties to see how small and emerging miners could be assisted in becoming part of a legitimate and vibrant junior mining sector.
“The Eland shaft tragedy is a terrible reminder of the dangers of unregulated, illegal mining.”
– African News Agency (ANA)