Cape Town. 120423. Emergency workers search for illegal miners that were trapped in a De Beers mine 75km outside Springbok on the Klienseer Rd. Photo by Michael Walker

Rescuers have located the missing illegal miners trapped in a disused diamond mine shaft in Namaqualand, but there is no sign of life.

And there is still uncertainty about how many men remain trapped in the Bontekoe Mine near Kleinzee.

Mining company De Beers estimated the number at 15, but a morning newspaper reported 17.

Captain Charelle Ehlers, police spokeswoman in Springbok, said early on Friday the rescue team had located the missing miners and expected to dig them out on Friday, but there was “no sign of life”.

On Thursday, a second body was recovered from the collapsed mine shaft and a third was visible.

“We have confirmation that the situation has remained the same in that rescuers are still busy digging a trench to try to open up another access point to the tunnel where the miners are suspected to be trapped. No other bodies have been recovered,” Ehlers said last night.

“But there is a cellphone reception blackout in that area, so the reports that we are getting are constantly interrupted by a bad signal. A third body was spotted (on Thursday), but rescuers could not get to it because of the perils posed by loose earth.”

Abel Madonsela, De Beers spokesman, confirmed he too had not received recent updates due to cellphone signal problems.

Three diggers escaped from the mineshaft on Tuesday. They were attempting to find the tunnels where the others were trapped.

Meanwhile, James Lorimer, the DA’s shadow deputy minister of mineral resources, has called for authorities to report to the public on what measures they were taking to combat illegal mining.

Questions on this matter would be submitted to Parliament.

Lorimer wants answers on what police are doing to crack down on major syndicates which, according to information from people in the industry, are protected by people at the top.

Asked who the “people at the top” were, Lorimer said he did not know.

“People who know are possibly too scared to talk about this.

“I can’t say whether they are referring to people in the government, in the mining industry or in the police. This is exactly why it needs to be investigated,” he said.

“In illegal mining activities the desperately poor are used as cannon fodder by syndicates that are stealing resources whose wealth should benefit all the people of South Africa.”

In the National Council of Provinces on Thursday, Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu said R5 billion had been lost to illegal mining in 2008.

Lorimer said: “it is so extraordinarily high and gives an indication of the scale and extent of the problem.”

Also on Thursday, rescuers brought 22 illegal miners to the surface in a rescue mission at a disused mine near Welkom.

[email protected]

Cape Argus