Decision to be made on resumption of zama zama rescue operation at Langlaagte

Picture credit: Thulani Mbele
Picture credit: Thulani Mbele

A decision will be made on Monday on how and when to proceed with the rescue and recovery operation of illegal miners trapped in Johannesburg’s oldest gold mine in Langlaagte.

Councillor Michael Sun‚ the member of the mayoral committee for public safety‚ told Radio 702 that the decision would be made by the Department of Mineral Resources’ Mine Rescue Service team as it was its “competency”.

The city‚ Sun said‚ was providing assistance through its Emergency Management Services and the Johannesburg Metro Police Department‚ which was controlling the crowd that had gathered at the scene‚ including families of the illegal miners.

Sun said it “was with heavy hearts” that the operation had to be suspended on Sunday while waiting for the fire – which is believed to have started on Thursday — to die and gases to dissipate.

But‚ while it is believed that as many as seven miners remain in the disused mine‚ the “lives of the rescuers could not be risked”‚ explained Sun.

Earlier‚ four of the illegal miners were rescued – one of them‚ Sun said on Monday‚ “told rescuers that he had started crawling to the surface on Friday”.

“We cannot proceed safely‚ there is no equipment that allows us to go further at this stage‚” Mines Rescue Services chief executive officer Christo de Klerk said on Sunday.

Hours earlier‚ rescuers using illegal miners as guides had travelled 1.5km to where they believed one of the bodies was situated. But when gases and smoke became too much‚ a second team with specialised breathing apparatus had to be dispatched.

They could not proceed‚ explained De Klerk‚ because the tunnel leading to the area became too narrow.

The miners‚ known as zama zamas‚ got trapped underground on Wednesday last week. Police spokesman Captain Kay Makhubela said: “We will comment on the bodies once they have been brought up [to the surface].”

Makhubela said a group of eight illegal miners had gone underground on Wednesday. They were met with a high gas concentration. Another group of eight went to look for them on Thursday‚ he said. They had since been coming out in ones and twos.

At that stage only four illegal miners had been rescued. Two were admitted to hospital while the others were arrested‚ police said on Sunday.

But as rescue services attempted to reach the remaining miners‚ police had to hold back a 150-strong crowd who wanted to enter the mine to help save their colleagues. Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba pleaded with those who had gathered not to enter the mine.

The rescuers‚ or proto team as they are known‚ have in recent years been increasingly called on to rescue illegal miners. In 2010‚ four proto team members died in an explosion in a Welkom mine. It is suspected that the cause of the explosion was a booby-trapped bomb left by zama zamas.

On Sunday‚ the families of illegal miners believed to be underground waited anxiously for news.

Shadrack Mlalazi said he had travelled from home in Zimbabwe after receiving a call that his grandson‚ Banzi Sibanda‚ had died.

“Some of the people who had gone underground found a cellphone is his possession. They called the relatives. I was called and I arrived here this morning‚” Mlalazi said.

Thomas Magwa said he was part of an initial group of 16 that had gone underground on Wednesday.

He said he and Taso Regu‚ both from Zimbabwe‚ had left others underground. He confirmed that some had died.

“We have not eaten for three days. We went in with a lot of cool drinks and they are all finished‚” Magwa said.

The disused mine is close to the site where gold was discovered in 1886‚ resulting in the establishment of Johannesburg. – TMG Digital


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