Bombs planted at Harmony mine

[] — The explosion at the Phakisa mine owned by Harmony Gold Mining Company last Thursday, which has already claimed four lives, was possibly caused by bombs placed by illegal underground miners.

On Monday the company said that the cause of the explosion was still unknown.

But at the same time it unmistakably intimated that it was the consequence of an increasing struggle with illegal miners.

During repairs to the mine’s ventilation system bombs had been found some 900m from the accident site, Harmony said on Monday.

These bombs are similar to those built by criminal miners, the statement reads.

But at this stage exactly what happened is unknown, chief executive Graham Briggs said in the statement.

Harmony was recently sharply criticised for the steps it is taking to remove illegal miners from its mines.

In particular, the mining group’s ban on food underground has been criticised by unions.

The country’s old gold mines are all attempting to combat illegal occupation of shafts. Illegal miners are however regularly found in the Free State and Mpumalanga goldfields, where over a century of mining has left hundreds of kilometres of underground tunnels.

Harmony, probably the South African mining group with the largest collection of old and unused shafts, recently enticed 102 illegal miners out of its shafts with a promise of amnesty.

Last year more than 60 illegal miners died in an underground fire at its Eland mine.

Pan African Resources, which operates three old gold mines near Barberton in Mpumalanga, also has problems with unauthorised people extracting gold from its shafts.

In December last year, together with the police, it conducted raids in its mines leading to more than 500 arrests.