NGO wants amnesty for trapped miners

WELKOM — Local non-governmental organisations have appealed to the government of South Africa to declare an amnesty for hundreds of miners still trapped at Eland Shaft in Welkom.

The Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations said they want an amnesty deal to allow the illegal miners to get back to their families.

The call comes hard on the heels of the arrest of 51 Basotho who have been underground for months.

The men handed themselves to the police last week.

Most of the illegal miners are said to be physically unwell.

They are likely to face charges of trespassing.

If convicted they will be fined M300.

‘Matseko Thulo, who is the LCNO commissioner in charge of disasters and humanitarian relief, said they had asked the government of Lesotho to help the miners rehabilitated into society.

“We are going to do all we can to try and see that the trapped miners are let free without any violation done on their lives,” Thulo said.

She said they were also pushing for families that lost breadwinners to get assistance on running self-help projects.

“We are also going to try and see how much we can mobilise with the help of the government to see that the bereaved families engage in sustainable projects to help educate their children,” said Thulo.

The call by the NGOs comes as the South African government said it was going ahead with plans to carry out paupers’ burial for unidentified dead miners.

Ninety-one illegal miners perished at Harmony Gold’s disused Eland Shaft in Welkom after a fire broke out in May.

The number of Basotho who died at Welkom has since risen to 54.

Last Thursday authorities at Welkom Government Mortuary displayed more bodies of people who died in the disaster.

This was the second time that the mortuary had displayed the bodies.

Of the 38 corpses that were still lying in the mortuary only six were identified.

They were all Basotho.

Four of the bodies were repatriated to Lesotho by their relatives.

The other two could not be immediately repatriated as their relatives did not have enough money to bring them back home.

Captain Stephen Thakeng of the South African Police Services in Welkom said the government had decided to bury the unidentified miners.

Thakeng said the bodies were now in a bad state.

He however said the government would first carry out DNA tests to help in the identification process in future if need be.

Thakeng warned would-be illegal miners to desist from illegal mining activities saying such practices were extremely dangerous.

He said the solution in dealing with the illegal miners rested with striking at the kingpins whom he said were driving the illegal activities.

“There is no use arresting all these men when the real culprits are out there, and it hurts because this entails a lot of intimidation.

“We have to get to the core of the problem and its cause and not the symptoms otherwise we will be going in endless circles,” Thakeng said.

Lesotho consular based in South Africa, Sethunya Koqo, said unidentified illegal miners will be buried in mass graves sometime this month.

Koqo said they had delayed the burial to allow scores of Basotho who are still coming to Welkom to identify their missing relatives.

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