Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe is expected to pay a visit to the Gloria coal mine near Middelburg, Mpumalanga, where 22 alleged copper thieves have been trapped and are believed dead following an explosion at the beginning of February.
A group of 42 men, reportedly Lesotho nationals, gained access to shafts at the Gloria coal mine near Middelburg in Mpumalanga on February 1, allegedly to steal copper cables.
News24 reported that following a gas explosion, 20 members of the group managed to reach safety, leaving the remaining 22 trapped underground.
The mine was owned by the Gupta family and was placed under business rescue in 2018.
Mantashe will receive a progress report on rescue efforts, the ministry said in a statement on Friday.
The minister is expected on site at around 09:00.
Since the closure of the mine in September 2018, hundreds of miners have not been paid their salaries, apparently leading to an increase in cable theft.
Six men have to date been confirmed dead. Rescue efforts have been halted temporarily because of the threat of various dangers, including damage inflicted by the alleged copper thieves, as well as interference by unpaid mineworkers.
Police spokesperson Leonard Hlathi told News24 on Monday that while there was a strong police presence at the mine, rescue operations had been halted for the time being.
In an interview on eNCA on Sunday, the mine’s business rescue practitioner Mike Elliot said disgruntled mineworkers had not been paid since October last year.
“This is because the business rescue process has not been completed,” Elliot said.
“The mines need to be sold in order for the money to come in [to pay the workers],” Elliot said.
Elliot told EWN: “The mine does not have any power. The copper thieves have cut the main cable and they’ve dropped the main overhead power lines and there’s no air underground. So, as a result of them cutting the copper, the mine filled up with methane gas and there was an explosion which has replaced the oxygen in the mine with carbon monoxide, which is an instantly poisonous gas.”
Elliot estimated at the time that it would take four to six days to “recover the [remaining] bodies”.
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