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Did criminal miners cause an explosion at Harmony Gold's Phakisa Mine?

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With the death in hospital of a fourth member of the Harmony Mine Rescue Services ‘proto' team following an explosion at the company's Phakisa gold mine near Welkom, suspicion has been raised that the four fatalities may have been a result of criminal mining activity underground.  Some of the mines in the area have been plagued by problems of this type with renegade miners, not employed by the mining company, virtually living underground for weeks or months at a time and mining gold for their own account.  They would have food smuggled in by normally-employed miners - there is usually adequate drinking water available underground - and tend to work at night when there is less chance of their being discovered.

That suspicion has fallen on criminal miners has been raised by Harmony Gold CEO, Graham Briggs, in a statement today where he reported that "while the cause of the explosion was not yet known, he was extremely concerned to have been informed that, while work was being done to restore ventilation to 66 Level, ‘booby trap' explosive devices (similar to those made by criminal miners) had been discovered some 900 metres from the accident scene."

Deaths through explosives accidents are extremely rare in the mines, so this tragic event which has killed, as Briggs noted,  "volunteer members of a highly trained, experienced corps of mine rescue workers, extremely knowledgeable about mine safety standards, who risk their lives to save those of others in danger. It is tragic and extraordinary that they have died in these circumstances, and we will spare no efforts to determine the cause.", is highly unusual.

On criminal mining activity Briggs commented that the company was doing everything in its power to rid its mines of criminal miners, with the full knowledge and assistance of the Department of Mineral Resources and the South African Police Service.

"Measures include the installation of additional security fencing and biometric and security card readers at all shafts, the banning of food being taken underground, and implementation of an amnesty, of which 102 criminal miners took advantage and returned to surface" he added.

The proto team members who died as a result of the explosion, were attending to a fire on 66 Level, some 2,013 metres below surface late on Thursday night. A fifth team member is in a serious but stable condition in hospital.

Provided courtesy of Mineweb.com

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