The national flag of Mozambique. File picture: Grant Neuenburg

Johannesburg - The collapse of an illegal gold mine in northern Mozambique has killed at least eight people, with more feared dead, local authorities said.

The illegal operation started two months ago after local communities discovered gold in the Memba district of Mozambique’s Nampula province, Felisberta Joaquim, the administrator in the area, said by phone.

Mozambican and Tanzanian citizens are among the victims, she said.

“We believe there were about 60 people inside the 12 meter-deep hole,” she said.

“The others are still buried under the sand.”

While people are digging manually to retrieve the miners, the authorities will send in equipment and teams to help with the rescue effort, she said.

Illegal gold mining also takes place in the southern African nation’s province of Manica, which neighbours Zimbabwe, and Niassa, which borders Tanzania, according to the state-owned Noticias newspaper.

In neighbouring South Africa, the government estimates there are about 14,000 people involved in illegal mining, an industry valued at about 6 billion rand annually.

Mozambican nationals are among those operating in the abandoned mine shafts around Johannesburg.

Auroch Minerals NL, a Perth-based explorer, bought the Manica gold project from Pan African Resources in January last year, with Pan African gaining a 42 percent stake in the company. - Bloomberg News