Illegal miners rescued from abandoned gold shaft in South Africa

17 February 2014 (Last Updated February 17th, 2014 18:30)

Around 21 illegal miners have been rescued from an abandoned gold mine in Benoni, east of Johannesburg, where they had been trapped since Saturday morning.

Around 21 illegal miners have been rescued from an abandoned gold mine in Benoni, east of Johannesburg, where they had been trapped since Saturday morning.

Rescue workers freed 11 miners by Sunday evening and a further ten miners on Monday.

Early reports suggested that there could be up to 200 miners underground, but the real figure may be around 15 miners, if any at all. It is common for illegal miners to hide underground for fear of arrest and of losing their gold.

According to sources, the miners who have been rescued so far are in good health and have not disclosed any information.

"Emergency teams rushed to the area after shouting was heard beneath the mine entrance, but it was too dangerous for rescue workers to gain access."

The Benoni mine shaft had been deliberately sealed off with concrete slabs to prevent people from entering, as it had been deemed too dangerous to mine.

It is unknown how the miners gained entry. It was believed that they dug a tunnel next to the mine shaft, which collapsed due to heavy rainfall but local correspondents suggested that they entered through an old ventilation shaft and a rival group had blocked their escape with heavy boulders.

Emergency teams rushed to the area after shouting was heard beneath the mine entrance, but it was too dangerous for rescue workers to gain access.

All 21 men have been taken into police custody and will be appearing at the Benoni Magistrate's Court on Tuesday.

South Africa has some of the world's deepest gold mines and also poor safety records. They have been ranked among the most dangerous mines.

Earlier this month, eight miners died in a South African gold mine following a fire and rock collapse at a Harmony Gold mine, near Johannesburg.

Approximately 112 mine workers died in 2012, despite efforts to improve safety by the government, unions and mine companies.

South Africa holds about 80% of the world's known platinum reserves and is the fourth-largest gold exporter.

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