Johannesburg - The DA has called for the government to establish a specialised crime-busting unit to uncover and curb illegal mining.
The DA's Shadow Minister of Mineral Resources, James Lorimer, said the deaths of 17 people at the Angelo informal settlement could have been avoided had the country dealt decisively with illegal mining.
This comes after EMS services established that gas had leaked from a canister in the informal settlement, resulting in multiple deaths, including three children.
Lorimer said the tragic incident was a powerful reminder of the cost of illegal mining.
Early reports indicate the gas leak was caused by illegal miners trying to refine ore. Lorimer said it was not only illegal miners who lost their lives in the incident, but children and innocent people as well.
"Illegal miners were not the disaster’s only victims. People living around the shack where the gas leak occurred and their children were also killed or injured," he said.
Lorimer said this incident was not the only recent incident involving illegal miners, as illegal mining had become widespread.
"Other tragedies caused by illegal mining happen daily in South Africa, from underground accidents to people’s lives being put at risk by illegal miners in their midst. Sadly, it takes tragedies of major proportions to get media attention.
"Through it all, there is pious hand-wringing from the authorities, but insufficient action. There have been some police operations and some success against illegal miners, but mostly this is sporadic and not systemic. This means illegal mining kingpins are rarely caught and simply shift the area of their operations to where policing is absent," Lorimer said.
The party said it called for the government to establish a police unit specifically to unearth and stop illegal mining activities.
"The illegal mining foot soldiers are usually the ones caught. The huge supply of poverty-stricken and desperate people willing to do such dangerous work is testament to the serial failure of southern African governments to lift their people out of poverty.
"The DA has long called for a specialised police unit to be established and equipped to properly tackle these crimes, as the poor and the powerless continue to pay the price of their indifference or their reluctance to act against illegal mining kingpins," he said.