JOHANNESBURG, Feb 18– Twenty-two gold miners who came out of an abandoned mine shaft in Benoni in the Gauteng Province East Rand area have been arrested and charged, South African police say.
The gold miners who had temporarily blocked a shaft over the last two years will be charged with illegal mining, the police said Monday. They added that the miners were examined by paramedics before being taken away to the nearby police station.
Some of the illegal miners came to the surface earlier on Monday. Others were rescued on Sunday and have already been charged.
At least 200 illegal miners are believed to be trapped underground. Many of them are believed to be illegal migrants from neighbouring Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Lesotho.
Emergency workers battled for most of Monday trying to persuade illegal miners to vacate an abandoned mine shaft in Benoni. The miners wanted an assurance from police that they would not be arrested.
Driven by desperation, many simply turn a blind eye to the dangers. Some of the illegal miners walked for up to 15-hours through a maze of tunnels to an exit point. It was a painstaking process for authorities as they negotiated with the illegal miners to come to the surface.
The media was barred from talking to those who resurfaced voluntarily. Some say the miners said they feared for their lives while others appeared to be evading arrest.
Various tactics were explored as one miner was asked to convince the rest of the group to come out. Another was used as a decoy and sent back underground to reassure them his buddies could come out and have the same treatment of patient care.
An unknown number would not budge.
Emergency Medical Services (EMS) spokesperson Sugan Moodley said the miners were very reluctant to come out, because once they emerged “they will assess them, treat them if need be and then hand them over to the South African Police Service (SAPS) organized crime unit”.
The men face charges of illegal mining and some had already appeared in court.
Gold producer Gold One,, which owns the mine, had blocked the shaft with a large slab to prevent access but the illegal miners burrowed around it. The slab then shifted, blocking their exit until it was removed by rescue workers.