Cops nab illegal miners

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Copy of ST p1secNU IlligalMiners349.JPG (39106428) THE STAR A suspected illegal miner, centre, emerges from a hostage drama in a mine ventilation shaft from which illegal miners were rescued and arrested in Roodepoort. Photo: Matthews Baloyi

Johannesburg - Police arrested about 30 suspected illegal miners in Florida, Roodepoort, after a resident alerted them that there were people carrying dangerous weapons at an exposed mine ventilation shaft.

On Tuesday, a team from The Star was told that a deadly hostage drama was playing out underground. It allegedly started on Sunday, when illegal miners were robbed of their gold. But police could not confirm this on Tuesday night.

SAPS provincial spokeswoman Colonel Noxolo Kweza said officers at Florida police station were alerted to the situation around 9am on Tuesday.

At the scene, police officers found a man who led them to the shaft.

Police search-and-rescue teams went underground, joined by paramedics.

Kweza said two illegal miners had been injured, but it was not clear what happened.

She said one man was in a critical condition in hospital, but the other one was “not too bad”.

A paramedic from Netcare 911, who did not want to be identified, said they had treated a man for head injuries and another for a stab wound.

Police still had to determine how the two were injured.

Kweza said the men would be charged with illegal mining and trespassing. More charges could be added later.

The Star team witnessed the illegal miners emerging one by one from a hole in the veld.

They were immediately handcuffed and led to an awaiting police vehicle.

Bags containing unrefined gold were found underground along with torches that the miners used for light.

A policeman, who did not want to be named because he is not an official spokesman, said the unrefined gold would be used as evidence.

“I’m going to keep it safe in my office,” he said with a grin.

Tactical Response Team officers from Honeydew and members from several other police units were milling around at the scene as the search-and-rescue operation was carried out.

Curious bystanders, who had gathered at the scene, watched for hours while the illegal miners emerged from underground.

An anxious Xolani Ngwenya from Zimbabwe had come to look for his brother, who had been searching for gold in the area for the past two weeks.

“I’m panicking because his cellphone is not ringing. People are claiming some of the men have died underground.

“I will go to the police stationon Thursday to see if he is not among those who were arrested,” added Ngwenya.

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