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The tragic toll of illegal mining

The Sunday Times | 2012-05-27 00:16:54.0

The Sunday Times: THE bodies of at least 16 illegal miners have been recovered and countless other miners are missing or awaiting rescue at the end of a week which brought to the fore the awful dangers and inhumanity associated with the growing business of illegal mining.

That anyone would work under such dangerous and inhumane conditions illustrates the desperation of so many who are forced to take any work they can get.

In this industry, organised crime syndicates are common and there is no control over the state of mines, their maintenance, safety procedures or working conditions underground. When something goes wrong, illegal miners are lucky if their plight is reported and if a rescue actually gets under way.

So far this year, more than 40 people who were legally employed in the mining industry have died at their jobs. Even with regular maintenance, safety rules and adherence to regulations on fair labour practice, mining remains a very dangerous job.

The number of illegal miners is unknown, but deaths among them are said to be significantly higher than those officially recorded. With a number of incidents reported in one week alone, the pace of illegal mining is increasing and, with it, the number of deaths.

It has taken innumerable fatalities, but the government has shown its concern and Mining Minister Susan Shabangu has appointed a task team to ensure that access points to disused mines are sealed. This, however, is not easily achieved because illegal miners regularly, and without much difficulty, reopen these mines. Mining companies have an obligation to plug the shafts and secure the mines with fencing and alarms.

Their responsibility does not extend into perpetuity, but they should come together with the government to find a solution to stop the terrible loss of life, often under terrible circumstances as people are buried alive or left to die.

On the issues of securing old mines and acid mine drainage, mining companies have to accept that they have an obligation to society to clean up after they are done.

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