The bodies of five illegal miners have been found in a closed shaft at one of Harmony Gold’s South African operations.

Harmony spokeswoman Marian van der Walt said the bodies were discovered at the President Steyn 1 shaft, recently acquired by the company in the Free State province.

The shaft was sealed off after a fire was noticed when Harmony took over its operations.

“These illegal miners usually go into the unsafe sealed areas and often live underground for months,” she said.

Van der Walt said the company did not know how many illegal miners were at the shaft, nor how or when they died.