Beer bottles and human bones littered the mine

Alfred Moselakgomo

Until this week, the last time I had been underground was during my primary school days in 1993 when my school visited Gold Reef Mine.

We used a lift to get into the mine.

When I heard the news this week about five men who were trapped in a mine while illegally digging for gold in Barberton, I was curious about how they had got inside.

When I arrived at the abandoned mine, excited relatives rushed to journalists and shouted: "We found them! Do you want to see where?"

When we reached the mine entrance, I expected that I would have to use a lift to get into the 120m-deep mine shaft. But instead I was given a rope tied to a tree and told to tie the rope around my waist and jump inside.

Hell, no. That's how I reacted. But, after giving it some thought, I told myself: "If these people can use this method for a week to get into the mine, a few minutes would not kill me."

So I descended into that deep hole. I was greeted by the strong smell of the badly decomposed bodies that had been trapped for almost two weeks.

I was given a mask to cover my mouth against the stench, and a torch.

Scared by the darkness, I told one of the relatives that I couldn't go further.

"No man, one more jump and you are there. You can make it," SABC journalist Bheki Nxumalo, who was already at the bottom, encouraged me.

I closed my eyes and jumped about 12m to the bottom.

Beer bottles, human bones and cigarettes butts littered the corners of the mine, confirming police statements of more unreported deaths of illegal miners.