Feb. 27, 2024


3 min read

Illegal miners’ remains: Mpotjoane clears rumours

Illegal miners’ remains: Mpotjoane clears rumours

Foreign Affairs Minister, Lejone Mpotjoane

Story highlights

    It is suspected 31 illegal miners lost their lives on May 18, 2023, in a mine ventilation shaft
    Minister says mine management and govt pledged to conduct tests to determine feasibility of retrieving the bodies

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MINISTER of Foreign Affairs and International Relations, Lejone Mpotjoane, has refuted rumours suggesting that he advised Basotho to forget about their loved ones who perished in the Welkom Free State Mine, South Africa.

It is suspected that 31 illegal miners lost their lives on May 18, 2023, in a mine ventilation shaft that had last been operational in the 1990s.

Minister Mpotjoane clarified that both the mine management and the Ministry of Mining in Lesotho pledged to conduct tests to determine the feasibility of retrieving the bodies. However, due to safety concerns, the retrieval efforts were deemed unsafe.

The minister expressed empathy, acknowledging the challenges faced by the families of the deceased. He showed that the ministry, despite harbouring initial doubts about the retrieval of bodies, assured the affected families that every possible action was being taken to recover the remains.

Mpotjoane also highlighted his commitment to transparent communication, stating that any updates on the situation are shared through press conferences and official letters to the families.

In response to concerns raised by opposition party leader of the Democratic Congress (DC) Mathibeli Mokhothu, who believed that the government's efforts were inadequate, Mpotjoane reiterated the complexity of the issue without providing extensive commentary.

Previously, Gwede Mantashe, the Minister of the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) in the Republic of South Africa, accused the Lesotho government of 'economic sabotage.'

He linked the incident to illegal mining, characterising it as a war on the economy.

Minister Mantashe expressed bewilderment at Lesotho's perceived inaction and alleged that the government had not sufficiently addressed the matter.

The backdrop to these concerns includes the arrest of about 97 illegal miners, many of whom were from Lesotho, in July 2022.

Furthermore, 87 illegal miners were sentenced to a total of 696 years in prison on March 30, 2023, by the Stilfontein Regional Court, in the North West Province of South Africa.

Additionally, in May of the previous year, 32 Basotho illegal miners were confirmed to have been trapped in the Virginia Shaft 5 mine in Virginia, Free State Province, leading to their unfortunate demise.

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The prevalence of illegal mining activities is attributed to the high unemployment rate in the country, as individuals seek opportunities across borders in the hope of alleviating poverty.

South African media reports show that in April 2022, 77 illegal miners appeared in the Orkney Magistrate’s Court in the North West, after they were rescued from an underground mine.

The charges pressed against the group included trespassing, illegal mining, and contravention of Section 49(1)(a) of the Immigration Act, 2002 (Act No. 13 of 2002).

The rescue operation spanned from April 14 – 18 and the South African police showed that the illegal miners had sought assistance from mine management to escape the mine shaft due to starvation.

In the course of the operation at shaft number 5 in Orkney, the illegal miners brought up four decomposed bodies on April 15, 2022.

Out of the 77 arrested individuals who underwent medical examinations, 60 were reportedly from Lesotho.

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