Eight bodies have been recovered so far from a South African gold mine, following a fire and rock collapse at a Harmony Gold mine near Johannesburg, according to company officials.

The incident occurred at the Doornkop gold mine 30km west of the city on 4 February.

According to National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and Harmony, a fire broke out in a stope 1,733m underground.

Rescue teams were immediately sent to the affected area, but access had become difficult due to smoke and a subsequent fall of ground.

"We must ensure that we do all we can to get to the bottom of what caused this incident in order to prevent similar occurrences in future."

The company noted that rescue works are continuing as a further nine miners are still missing at the Doornkop mine.

South African Mineral Resources minister Susan Shabangu said that the situation is deeply regrettable.

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"We must ensure that we do all we can to get to the bottom of what caused this incident in order to prevent similar occurrences in future," Shabangu said.

Unharmed miners stuck in the fire have been safely moved to a refuge bay, which is equipped with a telephone and other survival gear.

The incident is considered to be the most serious accident in a South African mine since July 2009, when nine workers died in a rock fall at a platinum mine.

The company has suspended all operations at the gold mine, other than essential services.

South Africa has mines with poor safety records and also has the deepest gold mines, which have been ranked as some of the most dangerous.

In 2012, approximately 112 mine workers died, 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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