File picture: African News Agency (ANA)

CAPE TOWN - The department of mineral resources (DMR) said on Thursday the search and rescue operation for more than 20 people trapped underground at Koornfontein Gloria coal mine in Mpumalanga was being delayed by lack of ventilation inside the shaft.

About 22 people, believed to be Lesotho nationals, were trapped underground at the disused mine near Middelburg on Wednesday after a gas explosion which left one person dead.

"The Mine Rescue Services will be taking gas samples to test methane levels," the department in a brief statement. "All cables supplying power to ventilation fans at the mine have been stolen therefore making rescue operations more difficult."

"Ventilation must be connected again to ensure the rescue proceeds safely," it added.

The trapped people were reportedly part of a group of 42 Lesotho nationals who went underground on Sunday and Monday in an attempt to steal copper cables.

At least 20 managed to reach safety after the gas explosion, but 22 people were left behind.

Mpumalanga police spokesperson Brigadier Leornard Hlathi on Wednesday confirmed 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)