Some of the miners said they had been digging at the illegal site, in Blaauwbosch Village, for more than 30 years.
Despite the constant threats by the local municipality and government, the miners remain undeterred.
Nehemiah Zwane, 62, said that with the money he has earned through the illegal mining, he has been able to pay his children’s school fees to ensure they made better choices for their futures. It also allowed him to feed his family of seven.
Zwane has been digging at the mine since 1991.
Along with his “colleagues”, they have created a brick-making business, from which they earn money to sustain their families.
“Some of us walk down the hill to the mine and collect sand, in wheelbarrows or buckets. We then bring it up to the top and mix it with water. The mixture is poured into brick moulds and left in the sun to dry.
“We have to rotate it so it dries evenly,” he said.
The dried bricks are then stacked in a makeshift oven and baked.
“The bricks harden and change colour. A brick sells for R3, while a block is worth R5. It takes about two months to make but we have to be patient. This is how we earn our living,” Zwane said.
Daniel Nkosi, who is in his sixties, said he too had spent many years mining to feed his family. Nkosi has seen and heard of many deaths at the mine.
“Those are the ones who are easy come, easy go. They are the ones who come here to mine for coal and often die because they dig too far, and the ground collapses around them,” he said.
Nkosi is too old to work at any of the businesses in the area.
“We cannot survive on only our pensions. We have to find other ways to make money. Here, we choose our own office hours and have no bosses. If we wake up and don’t feel like going to work, we don’t,” he joked.
Ntombizodwa Mngomezulu, who is also in her sixties, said she had been making bricks and blocks from the sand and coal ash.
She said she sometimes battled to collect water and sand from the mine site because of her ageing legs.
“I struggle on some days and have to ask others to help me to walk up from the mine. This is how we make money. What else are we to do? The municipality has been promising to help us but they haven’t done anything yet,” she said.
This forgotten community say the constant digging was impacting the environment and their quality of life.