File picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town - The Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) said on Wednesday that it had dispatched a team of inspectors to Koornfontein Gloria coal mine in Mpumalanga where scores of people are reportedly trapped underground. 

The group of 22 people, believed to be Lesotho nationals, were apparently trapped underground at the mine, some 36km from Middelburg in Mpumalanga, after a gas explosion.

"The DMR is aware there's been an incident at the mine. The mine is currently not operational. Our inspectors are en route for an inspection in loco and we are engaging with Mine Rescue Services for assistance. Details to follow as the situation unfolds," the department said in a statement.

Local newspaper the Middleburg Observer reported earlier that a group of 42 Lesotho nationals allegedly went underground in an attempt to steal cables when there was a gas explosion. The paper said 20 members of the group managed to reach safety, but 22 people were left behind.

In an attempt to rescue the others, the group went to a local ward councillor, Andile Magwane, to report the incident. A search-and-rescue operation by the proto teams was believed to be underway at the shaft.

The Gloria mine is believed to be 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 after hundreds of miners were not been paid their salaries. Since then, the mine has struggled with an increase in cable theft. 

African News Agency (ANA)