Middelburg - Rescue workers retrieved four more bodies of people suspected to be cable thieves from underground at Gloria coal mine near Middelburg in Mpumalanga on Thursday morning, bringing the total number of fatalities to six, business rescue representative Mike Elliot said.
Elliot said 22 people were thought to be still trapped underground. He described the motive for the incident as copper cable theft carried out by a group of Lesotho nationals who were residing at a nearby squatter camp.
“This is the most terrible thing that happened to this mine and it has been caused by them [suspected cable thieves,” said Elliot, who was speaking to reporters on the premises of the mine.
“They are cable thieves. This copper cable theft has been going on for three weeks now. The problem that we have in this country is that our laws do not stop people from buying second-hand copper cables."
Two people were first brought to the surface of the same mine on Wednesday and one of whom died on the premises, while another passed away at the hospital, added Elliot.
When the African News Agency (ANA) arrived at Gloria coal mine on Thursday afternoon, a number of police officers were on the premises and the main entrance to the underground area of the mine was closed.
Elliot said rescue operations have been temporarily stopped for safety reasons, adding they would resume when it was safe to do so.
“There is a company that is fixing the cables. There is a dangerous gas underground,” said Elliot.
The cause of the explosion that occurred on Wednesday at the mine was not known and it was under investigation, added Elliot. He said the mine was owned by the Gupta family and it was currently under business rescue.
Mpumalanga police spokesperson Brigadier Leornard Hlathi had on Wednesday said that one dead body was retrieved while another man was rescued alive.
The Gloria mine is part of the Optimum Coal assets which were owned by the controversial Gupta family. The Gupta mine assets were put into business rescue last year.
The mine has been closed since September and hundreds of miners have not been paid their salaries since October. Since then, the mine has grappled with an increase in cable theft.
African News Agency (ANA)