Five Lesotho nationals —among them a 13-year-old boy — were part of a group of 22 illegal miners who were earlier this week rescued from an abandoned gold mine just outside Johannesburg, South Africa.
Two men were found dead inside the mine during the rescue operation after they were reportedly crushed by falling rocks.
The rescue operation started on Sunday after members of the Ekurhuleni Metro Police on patrol heard screaming from the abandoned mine.
Those rescued from the mine have since appeared before the Benoni Magistrate’s Court.
According to the Lesotho Consular Officer to South Africa, Tumisang Mokoai, one of the five Basotho was a 13-year-old boy from Rothe.
Mokoai said the boy had been pardoned and would soon be transported home.
“The boy is still with us and will soon be taken back home. The others remain in custody.
“We are running around to get legal assistance for them to have representation in court,” Mokoai said on Wednesday.
Mokoai further said more Basotho could be among dozens more still trapped in the mine located in Benoni near Johannesburg.
According to South African media reports, more miners were still in the shaft on Wednesday and refused to surface for fear of being arrested.
The miners were trapped after a rival group allegedly blockaded entry to the shaft leaving those who were inside stuck.
It has been reported that some miners were, in some instances, held hostage by leaders of rival groups and forced to work at gunpoint.
Meanwhile, South African authorities said they were determined to end the illegal mining practice and suspect most of the miners are hired by kingpins who sell the gold dust on the black market.
Some of the illegal miners told the South African media that their practice was not as lucrative as people think, adding it takes them “a long time” to make “good money”.
Others said they had never seen sunlight in weeks because they were working day and night, extracting as much ore as they could.
Despite efforts by the SA government to ensure illegal miners do not access abandoned mineshafts, many have continued to sneak in although they are fully aware of the dangers involved.
South African media reports have also suggested many of the illegal miners are from neighbouring states, top among them Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and are driven by high unemployment in their respective countries.
Lesotho’s unemployment rate, according to the CIA World Fact Book, stands at 45 percent.