Family hope 'miner' is alive underground
THE family of an illegal miner who fell about 500 metres down an unused mine shaft has not lost hope that he could still be alive.
A search for the man at Durban Deep mine in Johannesburg has been on since Thursday and while rescuers know his position, they cannot reach him yet.
The man's uncle, Rico Mathanda - who saw his sister's child, Mabasa Machipanda, aged 20 - fall down a mine shaft on Thursday, was still in shock when Sowetan spoke to him.
Mathanda said he and others, including Machipanda, had spent a week underground looking for gold when they decided to resurface.
The illegal miners collect gold dust, wash it and expose it to heat before selling the final product on the black market.
Mathanda giggled when asked who their clients were: "You do not have to know your customers to trade.
"We did not have any luck the whole week. We were running out of water and food and thought we should take a break before going back underground."
Mathanda said illegal miners, mainly foreign nationals, did not trust their equipment, mostly ropes.
He also said they experienced frequent robberies when they emerged above ground.
"There are people who stand at the top and as you come up with whatever you have sweated for underground, they threaten you to hand over what you have or they will cut the rope," Mathanda said.
"My nephew's fear was that using a rope [to climb out] without anything to bargain with potential robbers would be deadly, so he used the rocks to climb out of the shaft."
A Ward 44 safety committee member, Joel Mabaso, said they had made numerous presentations to the City of Joburg to close entrances to shafts around the Dobsonville area but these still remain open.
He said some of the illegal miners had told stories of fighting and murders between groups underground.
"These mines should have been closed a long time ago. Criminals could be hiding in there," he said.
City of Joburg Emergency Services spokesman Robert Mulaudzi said they were alerted about the incident on Thursday.
"Our mission is to retrieve the body, that is what is important to us," Mulaudzi said.
Six emergency officials went down the shaft and emerged four hours later without locating the body.
Mulaudzi said the search team had covered 420 meters by yesterday.