By MOGOMOTSI MAGOME, Associated Press
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African police are investigating the discovery of at least 21 bodies suspected of being illegal miners who were found near an active mine in the town of Krugersdorp, west of Johannesburg.
According to the police, 19 bodies were discovered on Wednesday afternoon and two more were discovered on Thursday morning. Police said they suspected the bodies had been moved to where they were found, which is a private mine.
“We can confirm that this morning our search and rescue team returned to the scene and while searching they discovered two more bodies. They recovered them from an open pit (mine)” , police spokeswoman Brenda Muridili said Thursday.
Muridili said evidence found at the scene suggested the people did not die where their bodies were found, but “no foul play” was suspected. The bodies would undergo autopsies, she said.
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The Sowetan newspaper reported that the bodies were those of illegal miners who died when a tunnel at another mine collapsed, although police declined to confirm this before the results of autopsies. Sowetan, citing an unnamed illegal miner, said the bodies had been moved so police could not find where the illegal mining was taking place.
The grim discovery is the latest in a series of incidents linked to illegal mining in the Krugersdorp region. In July, eight female film crew members were raped and robbed at an abandoned mine in the area, where they were working on the set of a music video. The incident sparked violent protests against illegal miners in surrounding communities.
Last week, rape and robbery charges against 14 men, who are also suspected of being illegal minors, were dropped after police were unable to link them to the rapes through DNA evidence. The men were arrested during police raids on the abandoned mine where the rapes took place.
Illegal mining is rampant in South Africa, with miners known locally as “zama zamas” panning for gold in the many disused and abandoned mines in and around the Johannesburg area. Krugersdorp is a mining town located west of Johannesburg.
Illegal mining gangs are considered dangerous by police, are usually armed, and have been known to fight violent turf battles with rival groups. The trade is thought to be dominated by immigrants who enter illegally from neighboring countries of Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
The 14 men who were accused of rape and robbery have been dropped. They are accused of being in South Africa illegally and have been charged with immigration offences.
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