Search for illegal miners abandoned

The miners are refusing assistance for fear of being arrested.

One of the 11 trapped miners is escorted by a rescue worker after being pulled above ground on 16 February 2014. Picture: Reinart Toerien/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - Police and emergency services have now abandoned their operation to rescue at least 19 illegal miners who are trapped underground at an abandoned mine in Benoni on Gauteng's East Rand.

It's believed the miners became trapped at Gold One's Kleinfontein Mine after a rival group robbed them of their gold on Saturday evening and dropped two boulders down a ventilation shaft, blocking the only exit.

The police's Mack Mngomezulu says those who are still underground are refusing to be rescued for fear of being arrested.

"We've tried to help them but they don't want our help so there's no need for us to keep waiting there."

Rescue workers were able to hoist 11 miners to the surface late yesterday afternoon after removing two boulders and drilling through a concrete slab blocking the exit.

One of the eleven trapped miners is escorted by a rescue worker after being pulled above ground on 16 February. Picture: Reinart Toerien/EWN.

A rescue worker stands next to the illegal mine shaft where eleven miners were rescued after being trapped underground for almost a day on 16 February. Picture: Reinart Toerien/EWN.

They're expected to appear in court today on charges of illegal mining and trespassing.

Ekurhuleni Emergency Services Rogers Mamaila says turf wars for abandoned mines in Ekurhuleni has become a growing problem and fears the number of illegal miners being trapped could increase.

He says authorities are monitoring the exit point in case the other miners try to escape.

Meanwhile, the City of Ekurhuleni says it will have to come up with alternative ways to keep illegal miners away from abandoned mine shafts as its methods for sealing entrances and exits have failed.

Ekurhuleni community safety chief Mthuthuzeli Siboza says usually all shafts are sealed off with concrete, but miners often dig around this and create new entrances.

Over 100 illegal miners have been arrested in different parts of Gauteng since the beginning of this year.

The Chamber of Mines's Anton van Achterbergh says one of the ways to effectively deal with illegal mining is to clamp down on illegal immigrants and crime.

"These guys risk their lives and they wouldn't do it if it wasn't an easy way for them to make money. This problem will never go away but it will hopefully decrease."