File image: Reuters

Rescuers have recovered the bodies of five illegal miners from a disused diamond mine near Kleinzee, Northern Cape police said on Friday.

Captain Cherelle Ehlers said rescue teams reached a collapsed tunnel by digging a trench alongside the entrance of a disused mine to try and get to 15 trapped illegal miners.

She said conditions at the site were extremely difficult and dangerous.

The ANC’s Chief Whip in the Northern Cape Legislature Kagisho Molusi has in the meantime expressed condolences to the families of the miners.

Earlier this week, police recovered two bodies and rescuers could see another, but the unstable conditions prevented them from retrieving it.

One injured illegal digger was later rescued. He was treated for shock at a Springbok hospital.

Mine engineers visited the site earlier this week and decided to dig a ditch alongside the tunnel where the diggers were trapped, from which to try and reach them.

Tunnels at the mine collapsed at 3pm on Tuesday. The mine closed the tunnels in April.

Eleven illegal diggers reportedly escaped and alerted the police. The collapsed hole was about six metres deep and led to several tunnels and an underground waiting area.

Ehlers said the rescue operation was continuing late on Friday afternoon.

Molusi urged people to consult with relevant structures and to take the necessary procedures when carrying out mining activities.

“We value the lives of our people and encourage them to have a better understanding of the implications and risks of such activities.”

Molusi said the De Beers mining group should move faster in establishing partnerships with previously disadvantaged people in rehabilitating the unused mines in the province.

He thanked the rescue teams for the work done under dangerous conditions. - Sapa