MASERU — At least 385 Lesotho nationals are in custody in Welkom, South Africa, after they were arrested for illegal mining.
The arrests were made at two of Gold Fields’ shafts.
Gold Fields is one of the country’s biggest gold producing companies.
Other suspects included 89 South Africans, 26 Zimbabweans and two Mozambicans.
They appeared before the Welkom magistrate court on Thursday on charges of illegal mining and trespassing.
“The case was postponed to July 29 while investigations on whether they are also illegal immigrants are pending,” said Captain Stephen Thakeng of the Welkom police services.
About 28 women were also arrested for selling food to the suspected illegal miners.
Police also confiscated gold bearing dust and tools used for mining.
“Items used for mining activities were also confiscated from various mines. The items included 11.35 kilogrames of gold-bearing dust confiscated at President Steyn No 2, while 10.68 tonnes were seized at Western Holding No 7.
“Other items that were confiscated included 15 spades, a five-pound hammer, a fire extinguisher, three buckets, 10 iron spoons, a gas cylinder, a water pump machine and a fire hose,” said a report from the South Africa Press Agency (Sapa).
The report said after the Welkom arrest Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu announced that an illegal mining stakeholder forum had made a commitment to end illegal mining.
At least 90 Basotho men died in 2009 when hundreds of illegal miners were killed in an underground fire that broke out in an abandoned shaft in Harmony Gold mine.
South Africa’s Chamber of Mines, a group of gold producers in the world’s third biggest source of gold, said illegal mining was a problem that individual companies were dealing with, but it had no figures on the value of gold stolen.