Zama zamas' families expected to identify bodies found in Orkney

About 20 bodies believed to be those of illegal mine workers were retrieved from underground and brought to the surface outside an unused ventilation shaft near a railway line in the mining town.

Police in Orkney, near Klerksdorp, made a shocking discovery after the bodies of 20 unidentified men suspected to be illegal miners were found over two days. Picture: SAPS.

JOHANNESBURG - North West Province police on Friday said the families of some of 20 men who found near an abandoned mine shaft were expected to travel from Lesotho to identify their relatives next week.

The grim discovery of the bodies was made near Orkney earlier this week.

About 20 bodies believed to be those of illegal mine workers were retrieved from underground and brought to the surface outside an unused ventilation shaft near a railway line in the mining town.

Locals said an underground gas explosion caused the tragedy, however, police said post-mortems would be conducted.

Officers have positively identified at least one of the victims who is believed to be a Lesotho national.

At least 12 bodies, which were dumped in a grassy veld near a railway track, had name tags attached to their makeshift body bags – a practice the police’s Adele Myburgh said zama zamas had adopted to aid identification.

Myburgh said forensics would be roped in to help make positive identifications.

“We are in the process of trying to determine and contacting those numbers to see if we can try to determine the identity of these corpses. Just bear in mind that it’s not going to be possible immediately to determine the identities.”

Myburgh said police would be working with the Lesotho Consulate to bring the families of the deceased to South Africa.

“We’ve had a lot of assistance from the Consulate where they will assist us to facilitate to bring the families to Orkney to come and identify the corpses.”

Pushed by high levels of poverty and unemployment, many migrants work in abandoned mines in South Africa to take their chances – or die trying.

Meanwhile, North West police said a video clip on social media could provide some leads into the deaths of 20 suspected illegal miners.

In the video clip, believed to have been recorded in one of the disused mine shafts, a man identified as “Mafifi” is heard talking about his colleagues’ deaths and asking for advice on how the bodies can be brought to the surface.

He said the deceased were hit by “smok”- a local term used by miners to describe fumes.

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