WELKOM – The smell of death wafts through the air around the Welkom Government Mortuary. It is in this morgue where 86 died bodies of the illegal miners who perished in the mining disaster are kept.
Eland shaft where the miners died sits to the south-west of the mortuary. It is in this mine were 38 men from Lesotho lost their lives after a fire broke out in one of the shafts.
Grief-stricken relatives wait patiently in the cold weather.
They can feel the light drizzle but they have to wait for their turn to identify their loved ones.
In one corner of the yard diplomats and police officers are busy arranging papers for the identified corpses to be taken away.
Some of the people who have gathered here say they last saw their loved ones many months ago. Some have not heard from them for years.
When the doors to the morgue are opened relatives enter in groups of 10 because the place is too small inside.
It is not easy to identify the corpses because they have either decomposed or have been burnt beyond recognition. Relatives have to use old scars, hair styles, set of teeth and bangles they used to wear.
Tumisang ’Matli from Matsoku in Leribe managed to identify his brother’s body but could not take it because he is an illegal immigrant in South Africa.
He said he had the money to transport the bodies but his papers were not in order.
He said he was not aware that his brother was working as an illegal miner in Welkom.
He got a message from Lesotho instructing him to go and check his brother among the dead. “I was not even aware that my brother was involved in illegal mining in Welkom,” he said.
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Ts’ephe Maune from Thaba-Tseka said he identified his brother’s son. He had a name tag.
“A tragedy had befallen the family. Really we need help to transport the body,” said Maune.
“We did not send them to illegally dig gold here but they are still our responsibility.”
Maune was with two other men from his village.
The men had managed to transport corpses of their relatives on Tuesday but they had remained to assist Maune.
Thakhisa Monare from Mahobong in Leribe came to take his nephew’s body. “I am surprised. I was not aware that this boy was operating illegally in the mines. We were not aware that he was already working,” said Monare.
“We only thought he was still looking for a job.”
Those who failed to get their relatives left the mortuary traumatised.
They remain in dark about the whereabouts of their relatives.
It’s not clear whether they could be relieved or not because the possibilities are quite diverse.
They could still be trapped underground battling for their lives or they could be dead already but are yet to be brought to the surface.
Others could still be alive but they are afraid of coming out because they would be arrested.
Others might have simply disappeared in South Africa.
Ts’iroe Mofeli is one of those who did not find his relative amongst the bodies.
Mofeli, a pensioner who looks distressed and sickly, said he was confused because he still did not know where his grandchild, Mohaeka Mohaeka was.
“This boy has caused me and the rest of the family pains,” Mofeli said.
“I am compelled to believe that he is dead and is still trapped underground,” he walked away from the reporter.
Mohaeka’s sister, ’Mapateriki Mohaeka, narrated how her brother left home amid objections from parents and siblings.
“He left together with eight others from the village with the promise that Makhooa (mining bosses) would give them jobs,” ’Mapateriki said.
Some suspected that their relatives had died because they knew that they had been recruited to work illegally in the mines.
They also know the people who recruited their relatives.
The majority of those from Thaba-Tseka at Ha-Noko and Ha-Seshote left in January and immediate members of their families were aware that they were involved in smuggling gold.
Almost all of the bereaved families were so poor that they could not afford to transport the remains of their loved ones to Lesotho.
Shocked, the relatives stood along the fence near the morgue and under the trees wrapping themselves with blankets to protect themselves from the cold.
There occasionally they have small meetings to discuss how they would transport the bodies back home.
Lesotho consular Sethunya Koqo said some people from Lesotho had volunteered to help them ferry their loved ones to Maseru free of charge.
“You will only pay when you transport them from Maseru to your respective villages,” Koqo said.
The good Samaritans appeared to be the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader, Lekhetho Rakuoane and the MP for Semena, Jobo Sekautu.
Rakuaone said he approached individual business people in his constituency and in some parts of the country who agreed to help.
“I had to do something for these people,” he said.
A truck was organised to do the job.
Names of illegal miners who died at the Eland shaft
Lira Lipakela Thaba-Tseka, Pontséng
Tumisang Mohale’s Hoek, Mpharane
Moeketsi Letsóha Thaba-Tseka, Ha-Noko
Realeboha Sekonyela Thaba-Tseka, Ha- Leruo
Relebohile Chaka Mokhotlong, Ha Morena Lephele Lethunya
Semenanyana Thaba-Tseka, Tseling
Ntai Sekonyela Thaba-Tseka, Ha-Leruo
Ramphoso Rooi Thaba-Tseka, Ha-Noko
Khethang Khopholi Thaba-Tseka, Ha-Noko
‘Muso Sepha Thaba-Tseka, Ha-Khoanyane
Napo Tiheli Thaba-Tseka, Ha Khoanyane
Motebang Tlhotole Mosetoa, Ha-Noko
Moshoeshoe Moleko Thaba-Tseka, Ha-Noko
Sefero Terong Ha-Theko, Ha-Morena Motsóene Leribe
T Mokuena Ha-Theko, Ha Morena Mathake
Lebohang Matlali Thaba-Tseka
Letsoako Letsoako Thaba-Tseka, Khoanyane
Kabelo Khopholi Thaba-Tseka, Ha-Noko
Chonapase Noko Motsekuoa, Ha-Noko
Tohlang Penane Leribe, Ha-Seshote
Moeketsi Nkaobehe Maputsoe
Seshote Tau Matsoku Ha-Seshote, Leribe
Bakoena Mohapi Thaba-Tseka, Ha Morena Semakaleng
Leeto Mmatli Matsoku, Leribe
Mosusoe Mosuoe Ha-Leaooa, Leribe
Mojalefa Maketekete Ha-Maqele, Maputsoe Pelá Sekolong