The number of people dying in South African mines has declined, but illegal mining is still a big problem, Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe said on Saturday.
Government was working hard to further improve health and safety conditions at mines, he told the African News Agency (ANA) on the sidelines of an African National Congress elections campaign visit to Ackerville in Emalahleni, Witbank in Mpumalanga.
“If you look at our track record in terms of mining safety, the numbers of fatalities are continuing to go down,” Mantashe said.
But mines had no control over illegal mining and criminal activities on their premises, such as the recent events at Gloria coal mine in the same province, where 18 people died in the mine shaft after an explosion occurred while they were allegedly stealing copper cables.
“If people come to Gloria mine to steal cables, that is a criminal activity. It’s not a mining activity. The work on health and safety in the mines is happening. We are doing relatively well, but we cannot commit to provide health and safety for criminal activities,” Mantashe said.
The 18 people who died at Gloria coal mine were part of a group of about 20 people who allegedly went into the mine on February 3 and tried to steal copper cables, police spokesman Colonel Mtsholi Bhembe said earlier.
Rescue and recovery workers retrieved five bodies of men two weeks ago, while a sixth man was rescued and taken to hospital where he was later discharged. On Friday, rescue and recovery workers brought 13 more bodies to the surface.
Mpumalanga police spokesman Brigadier Leonard Hlathi told ANA on Saturday that 17 bodies had since been identified. He said 16 of them were Lesotho nationals and one was a South African.
– African News Agency (ANA)