Mine tragedy doesn’t put off ‘diggers’

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kleinzee mining rescue INLSA The loose soil, and the manner in which the bodies are trapped underground, means it takes rescue team up to several hours to retrieve just a single body. Photo: Neil Baynes

As the bodies of their counterparts are still being pulled from collapsed tunnels at an abandoned Kleinzee mine, illegal miners continue operating at at least five other mines which have been shut down, and are equally dangerous.

By late on Saturday rescue teams had retrieved 10 of the bodies of the group of about 19 illegal diamond miners who were trapped underground in a cave-in at the Bontekoe mine, 20km from Kleinzee in the Northern Cape.

 The names of the deceased will only be released once their relatives identify the bodies, but it is believed that all 19 died as a result of suffocation.

 Eleven illegal miners who went down the same mine on Monday and into the early hours of last Tuesday escaped just before the collapse.

But the tragedy has not stopped hundreds of other illegal miners continuing to chisel away at the ground in the area, creating more tunnels and sifting through gravel in the search for diamonds.

 Interviews on Saturday with various illegal miners, also called “diggers”, revealed that the illegal mining was continuing as before at disused mines between Springbok and Kleinzee, and close to the Bontekoe mine at places including Buffelsbank, Nadaboi, Wolfberg, Langhoogte and Obeep.

Some of the diggers were busy sifting for diamonds as they spoke to Weekend Argus.

 Weekend Argus met a group of about 20 diggers in Buffelsrivier, at the Buffelsbank mine. Some showed off small plastic bags containing diamonds.

One explained that his five diamonds would fetch him about R2 800, while another offered the news team his diamonds for R100.

Another man in the group had lost his right arm as a result of a motor vehicle accident, but still continues digging in the tunnels.

“I can’t afford to sleep for more than two or three hours a night because I will lose my place in the queue. I can’t drive out to go and sleep, then I won’t get a chance to dig,” he said.

 He was among the 300 to 400 miners who began queuing to go down the Bontekoe mine last Sunday night, just before Tuesday’s tragedy.

They work between about 10pm and 4am to avoid being caught by police or security during the day.

“De Beers says there’s no more diamonds, but we find them every day,” the one-armed man said.

Later on Saturday, Weekend Argus met a group of about 10 diggers working from a caravan they set up at the Buffelsbank mine, where they have been digging illegally since Wednesday.

The group, co-ordinated by a female resident of the nearby town of Kommagas, 66-year-old Sarah Damon, is working above the ground in shallow holes they have dug to search for diamonds.

“There should be no tunnelling that leads to death. Those men were cruelly smothered on Tuesday,” she said.

But other diggers at the Buffelsbank mine use three tunnels, similar to the tunnels used by the illegal miners who died at the Bontekoe mine, and she said she wished the authorities would close the tunnels.

Damon said two detectives and other police officers in a bakkie came to try and chase her and her crew away on Thursday, but “I won’t allow it”.

“This is our ground. We want to stay on our grounds. There’s no other work for us and this is the only way we can survive,” she said.

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Weekend Argus

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