WELKOM – About 100 illegal miners, most of them from Lesotho, still trapped in the South African mine where 86 others have been confirmed dead have refused to come out fearing arrest.
Hundreds of illegal miners were trapped underground at Harmony Gold’s disused Eland Shaft in Welkom after a fire broke out.
Most of the 86 confirmed dead by last night are suspected to have suffocated to death due to toxic gases that were caused by the fire.
Yet those who are still underground say they will not be coming out anytime soon because they fear being arrested.
The Lesotho Times last night made contact with one of the Basotho miners still underground through a landline normally used for safety purposes in the mining shaft.
The phone can receive or make calls.
The Lesotho Times news crew that visited Welkom yesterday got the contact number from one of the illegal miners who had come out of the 1 400-metre-deep mine a week before the accident.
We spoke to the illegal miner who said he only wanted to be identified by his codename Masheleng because illegal miners don’t use their real names underground for “security reasons”.
Masheleng who comes from Seshote village in Leribe district and has been underground since early May said they will remain in the mine for “as long as it takes” because they are afraid of being arrested.
He said there were still tens of other illegal miners from Lesotho who were still in the underground shafts.
He claims that there are still more dead bodies underground.
“Of course I have been shaken by what I have seen (dead corpses) but I will not come out,” Masheleng said.
“I came into the mine in May and this is not my first time here,” said Masheleng.
He said he was not in the tunnel where the fire broke out but the accident had left him shaken.
“There is no way we will come out of this mine as long as the police are around, we are not willing to die in prison,” said the father of four.
“Here underground work is still going on. We are still digging. There are many Basotho men who are still searching for wealth underground.”
Masheleng said he and other illegal miners had resolved to stay underground because they have seen their colleagues who had come out being forced to go back underground to bring out dead bodies to the surface.
“There is no use in coming out when I know that they will send me back here.”
Harmony Gold Mine has refused to send its workers to rescue the illegal miners claiming that the disused mine was dangerous and insecure.
Most of the dead bodies were brought to the surface by some of the illegal miners who had been forced to go back underground.