It was a small hole beneath a larger slab of
concrete beside a busy road on the outskirts of
the South African city of Johannesburg.
We had come to the neighbourhood, close to the
World Cup FNB stadium, after hearing that several
illegal miners – who routinely burrow in their
thousands into the maze of old, disused gold mines
beneath the city – had been killed in yet another rock
fall deep underground.
Minutes after we arrived, the first dusty face
appeared at the tunnel entrance.
A dozen miners proceeded to squeeze out of the hole
– not a mineshaft but a culvert beneath a road, which
somehow provided access to the mine.
Then they brought out the body.
The men had carried Thabang Konka, a 28-year-old
from Lesotho, for three hours from the spot where
the roof of a tunnel had collapsed on top of him,
crushing his head.
“Of course it’s dangerous,” said one of the miners, a
Mozambican called Domingo.
“But we need the money. We can earn maybe 250
rand ($25, £16) a day or more.”
Another man said he knew seven colleagues who had
died underground in the past eight months.
“I’m scared. But I tell myself you could die crossing
the road,” he said.
The miners gathered around Mr Konka’s body, which
they had placed carefully under a nearby tree.
They cut away the straw matting they had wrapped
tightly round him, and then broke into an impromptu
dance.
They stamped their booted feet rhythmically against
the dusty earth and began to sing in deep, guttural
voices.
‘It’s stealing’
“Now we must close up the hole,” said Gordon Billing,
a South African police officer who arrived at the
scene moments afterwards with a team that quickly
moved in to rope off the area and remove the body.
“It’s a nightmare,” said Mr Billing.
“We close one and another pops up, like moles. There
are thousands of people working down there.
“It’s stealing – the gold belongs to the state not to
them.”
Indian and Chinese middlemen are thought to play a
key role in buying the gold, which is laboriously
sifted from each bag of sand hauled up to the
surface.
Critics accuse the police of turning a blind eye, or
even of being actively involved in the trade, and
blame the big mining companies too for failing to
take the necessary measures to seal off the old
tunnels.
Eventually Mr Konka’s body was covered with a
sheet, and taken away to a state mortuary.
The miners, standing beside a cluster of makeshift
wooden shacks, watched the police from a distance,
waiting for them to leave before heading back
underground.
Andrew Harding
Africa correspondent
More from Andrew Follow Andrew on Twitter
South Africa’s illegal gold rush
Cannot play media. You do not have the correct
version of the flash player. Download the correct
version
Andrew Harding reports: ”This is a huge industry,
incredibly dangerous”
Related
Stories
The crisis
facing South
Africa’s gold
mines
Audio
slideshow:
South African
miner
South Africa
profile
I’m scared. But
I tell myself
you could die
crossing the
road”
Illegal gold
miner
Gold made Johannesburg the prosperous city it is
today

Tags: | |

Advertisements