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

Intensified rescue operations were scheduled to continue through the night at the Bontekoe Mine in the Kleinzee area outside Springbok on Thursday night.

It is still uncertain how many people are still trapped in the mine shaft, but mining company De Beers estimated the number at 15. A second body was recovered from the collapsed mine shaft on Thursday morning. But Captain Charelle Ehlers, police spokeswoman in Springbok, said details about the rest of the day’s happenings remained sketchy.

The search for the diggers, who are believed to have been mining at Bontekoe illegally, is entering its third night.

“We have confirmation that the situation has remained the same in that rescuers are still busy digging a trench to try and 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 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 in an attempt to find the tunnels where the diggers 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, said Lorimer.

He 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 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.”

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

Lorimer said: “it is so extraordinarily high. It’s much higher than I would’ve suspected, and gives an indication of the scale and extent of the problem.”

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

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Cape Argus