The deaths of informal miners could be prevented if the South African government took action to decriminalise their mining activities.
Oxfam South Africa said the deaths were a symptom of much bigger problems faced by communities living alongside abandoned mines.
The organisation said it believed the carnage on disused mines was avoidable.
Oxfam SA senior extractives lead Thembinkosi Dlamini said until government embraced a social view to mining, the death toll will continue to rise.
He was reacting to the deaths of 14 informal miners who were found this week killed around the abandoned mines of Benoni on the East Rand.
Police suspect that the last eight of the 14 miners were attacked as part of zama zama gang wars.
On February 25, Richard Thole, 5, fell into an abandoned mine shaft near Boksburg.
“We believe government should monitor and enforce mining company compliance with respect to rehabilitation after the productive life of mines, also investing in sustainable livelihoods for ex-mineworkers,” Dlamini said.
He suggested a revision in the mining approach while guarding against the negative impact on communities.
Mining should ensure empowerment and sustainability after the operations.
“In our view, the problem with the approach to artisanal mining begins with how we characterise it. We believe they are informal, small-scale miners and we should guard against criminalisation of their activities by default through the language used to describe those engaged in it,” he said.
Dlamini describe it as myths that “all informal miners were nonnationals, illegal migrants involved in syndicate and underground gangs”.
He said the miners, or zama zamas as they are commonly known, are breadwinners pushed into informal mining by the current socioeconomic situation.
“We call on the South African government to decriminalise informal mining and for this sector, which is worth billions of rands, to be properly regulated and licensed as envisioned by the African Mining Vision,” he said.
“The role of artisanal miners must be aknowledged in macroeconomic development, in household income, job creation and securing livelihoods for the majority of the poor and unemployed.
“The government must license, regulate and facilitate an enabling environment for economic activity by those involved,” Dlamini said.