WELKOM – The bodies of 25 miners have been recovered from a Harmony Gold mine shaft in Welkom, Free State.
They are believed to have died in an explosion on Thursday last week.
The company suspects the blast was the result of illegal mining.
Harmony Gold Unlimited spokesperson Max Manoeli said on Wednesday: “Basically, the mine is no longer operating and was shut off. So how they got into the mine, it was breaking and entering, but because the mine is no longer operating it was a very unsafe practice that they did.”
Free State police spokesman Lerato Molale said they had found out about the bodies only on Monday, when they recovered 11 of them, Thirteen other had been retrieved on Tuesday and one on Wednesday.
The South African Federation of Trade Unions strongly rejected any attempt by Harmony, the owner of the mine, to dodge responsibility for the disaster on the grounds that those who died might have been illegal miners.
“They are referring to workers who were not employed by the company but who are so desperate for a livelihood that they will risk working in unused mine shafts,” a Saftu statement said.
“But these workers are no less human and deserving of respect than ‘legal’ employees. They have families and dependents and the same right to earn a living.
“‘Legal’ and ‘illegal’ workers are all victims of exploitation, either by the ‘legal’ mine owners or the ‘illegal’ dealers who buy and sell the gold extracted by the zama-zama miners,” the union federation said.
Saftu demanded that so-called illegal miners be legalised, trained and given the opportunity to work, with the same rights and conditions as other workers.
It reiterated its call for the nationalisation of the mining industry under democratic control by workers and local communities, and sent its condolences to the families of the deceased.