Five illegal miners have been pulled alive from a disused gold mine near Welkom, Free State police said on Wednesday.
“They are thirsty and hungry, but well enough to be charged for trespassing,” said Captain Stephen Thakeng.
Mine rescuers were confident they would be able to save more people during the course of the day.
At least 21 were still believed to be underground. Two illegal miners raised the alarm on Tuesday, saying fellow miners were trapped underground following a rockfall in the early hours.
Thakeng said the illegal miners had told authorities they were mining for gold in the disused Harmony mine when parts of it began to cave in.
The company had sealed the mine but illegal miners, many of them from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Lesotho, had burrowed in under organised supervision.
“The organisers of this illegal mining are recruiting in very poor communities and people don't always realise they are coming to work on something illegal and very dangerous in South Africa,” Thakeng said.
He appealed to people to be careful about allowing themselves to be used and, in so doing, risking their lives and the lives of rescuers.
In the Northern Cape near Kleinzee, rescuers were still trying to reach 16 men trapped underground in an illegal diamond mine. On Wednesday police spokesman Captain Cherelle Ehlers said rescuers did not know how many of the men were still alive. - Sapa
© 1999 - 2010 Independent Online. All rights strictly reserved.
Independent Online is a wholly owned subsidiary of Independent News & Media. Reliance on the information this site contains is at your own risk.