- Over 60 illegal gold miners in South Africa have died of suffocation after a fire gutted a disused mineshaft over the weekend at Eland shaft, in the central Free State province, Harmony Gold Mining said in a statement.
According to the company, illegal miners had brought the bodies of 36 others to the surface at the weekend, saying it was too dangerous to send its own employees to go underground to search for more bodies.
Harmony said illegal mining often goes unnoticed because miners can sneak past security at one mine and exit from one owned by a different company kilometres away.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions and the solidarity labour union called for government investigations to unravel the puzzle of missing illegal mines in South Africa.
An underground fire already killed 23 illegal miners in 2007, also in South Africa's mining dominated Free State province.
In another incidence, Harmony has reported that 294 so-called "criminal miners" were arrested in a two-week crackdown on illegal mining in one of its abandoned shafts. South African police statements said the detainees include South African miners and those from neighbouring countries Lesotho and Mozambique.
Harmony said it tightened security to prevent people from illegally entering its mines in South Africa, which has some of the world's deepest and most dangerous shafts.
About a 10th of the gold mined in the country is stolen every year, according to the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies. This sums up to a large black economy, given the size of South Africa's mining sector.
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