South Africa: Illegal Miners Refuse to Be Rescued

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -
Emergency rescue workers attempt to free trapped illegal miners at a disused gold mine shaft near, Benoni, South Africa, Sunday (AP Photo)
Emergency rescue workers attempt to free trapped illegal miners at a disused gold mine shaft near, Benoni, South Africa, Sunday (AP Photo)

They refused to be rescued.

Emergency workers in South Africa cleared a mine shaft entrance of debris on Sunday, allowing miners who had been trapped below the chance to escape. The only problem was that the miners were working illegally, and some stayed because they feared arrest if they came out, according to officials.

At least 11 miners were escorted to safety at the mine in Benoni, on the outskirts of Johannesburg, but an undetermined number of their comrades were still in the gold mine, emergency responder Kobus Du Plooy said by telephone late Sunday. Police prepared to question those who came out about anyone left underground.

After nightfall, some mine security officials remained at the site. Rescue workers had packed up and left, leaving a ladder in the shaft for those still below.

“Should they have a change of heart and mind, they then have at least some access to get out of the shaft,” Du Plooy said.

He said he didn’t know how many people were still in the shaft. Earlier, reports said more than 200 miners had been trapped. But the ones who emerged were tight-lipped about the colleagues they left behind, apparently concerned about trouble with the police.

“They don’t want to give away too much information,” Du Plooy said. It was unclear how long the holdouts planned to prolong their stay in the mine.

Some of the 11 who came out were dehydrated but otherwise in good health. They were believed trapped since Saturday morning and police patrolling in the area heard their screams for help.

Illegal mining is common in South Africa, a major producer of gold and platinum. Workers brave unsafe conditions amid reports of the involvement of organized crime and even clashes between rival groups seeking to extract precious metal from the shafts.

Authorities suspect the miners in Benoni were robbed by a rival group that blocked the mine exit, reported a South African media outlet.