‘We call it the zama graveyard’ bodies still being recovered two weeks after Welkom explosion
Jan Bornman | 2017-05-31 16:21:24.0
Image by: Gallo Images/Thinkstock
Two weeks after an explosion at a decommissioned mine in Welkom‚ Free State police are still recovering bodies.
Provincial spokesperson Brigadier Motantsi Makhele said police had recovered the body of the 38th illegal miner from the Eland Shaft in Welkom on Monday‚ two weeks after a suspected methane gas explosion 3km underground.
Police managed to recover more than 20 bodies in the first few days following the explosion‚ with some of the illegal miners reaching the surface and informing mine security about the deaths.
“We have recovered 38 bodies now. We are not sure how many there still are‚ but there are still a number of operations taking place and they might come across more bodies‚” said Makhele.
At the time of the incident‚ a Welkom forensic services officer told The Times how bodies were recovered on a weekly basis.
“We call it the zama graveyard‚” said the forensics officer.
“Every week we collect bodies. The miners send a signal and we go out to collect the bodies. Most are beyond recognition. That’s from the heat‚ crush injuries from rock falls or diseases.”
Chamber of mines security co-ordinator Neil Metzer said the area in Welkom was one of the big illegal mining hotspots in South Africa‚ along with Springs on the East Rand where at least 14 illegal miners were found dumped along the side of the road in March.
“The main problem in the Free State is underground because of the inter-linkages of the shafts. No matter what the mine does to secure those shafts‚ they will open it up with explosives‚ open it up with excavators and they go down‚” Metzer said.
He said the industry has spent billions of rand in securing shafts and beefing up security at mines.
“It is total war out there. It is guns – everything that is involved with organised crime is involved with illegal mining. We can’t carry on like this‚” he said.
Metzer said one of the biggest challenges in battling illegal mining‚ was securing the underground shafts.
He described their tactics as ingenious‚ with illegal miners bribing security officers and often obtaining access cards of genuine miners to access mines.
As an example‚ Mpumalanga Hawks arrested eight suspects last week at a mine in Belfast after they had paid security officers between R35‚000 and R50‚000 to gain access to the mine.