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Government to repatriate bodies of illegal miners found in SA

By Ts’oloane Mohlomi

MASERU – The government of Lesotho has vowed to repatriate the bodies of the 31 illegal miners discovered by South African authorities in a neglected mine in the Free State province.

The bodies were found in a methane-infested abandoned shaft in Welkom’s Virginia Township, and are suspected mostly to be Basotho nationals. The incident was surprisingly said to have first been reported in May Last month, but the bodies were only discovered last week.

Speaking at a press briefing held on Monday in Maseru, Lesotho’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations Mr Lejone Mpotjoane, flanked by Minister of Natural Resources, Mr Mohlomi Moleko, said the government of Lesotho together with their South African counterparts were working tirelessly to ensure that the remains of the trapped miners are brought back to be reunited with their families.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the South African government for their unwavering support and cooperation regarding this issue. In strengthening relations between the two countries, I would like to assure you that we are going to ensure that the remains of our loved ones found in the neglected mine are returned home safely,” he said.

In a subsequent incident shortly following the discovery, The South African Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe in a scathing attack on the government of Lesotho, had said the presence of illegal miners found in the mines (known as zama-zama’s) was an attack on his country and a deliberate interference with the South African economy.

Mantashe speaking in an interview with the South African media, went blatantly as far as saying that the issue of illegal mining in South Africa was in fact an “economic sabotage” by Lesotho. He said it was a war on the economy, and likened the miners who died in the mine to soldiers who had died in combat.

The controversial remarks left many startled as to what the Minister meant, when making reference to a war, but during the interview Mantashe went on to say that officials of the Lesotho government had more information on the tragic incident after survivors of the mining tragedy in the Free State “ran to Lesotho to report” without informing any South African Authority.

He said very recently Lesotho’s Minister in charge of mineral resources (Minister Mohlomi Moleko) had been deployed to Welkom, Free State. And said the Lesotho Minister made “made a very strange suggestion,” – saying that surviving illegal miners should be deployed to go underground and retrieve bodies of the deceased ones.

“I asked him a very straightforward question: should we send people into a methane-infested shaft knowingly? What happens if more die, would you take responsibility? This incident, more than any other incident, has confirmed our view that this thing of illegal mining is actually an economic sabotage, it is war on our economy and, therefore, those who died there are almost like soldiers dying in combat.

“It is quite a serious matter and I don’t know why the Lesotho government is not seeing that this is quite dangerous, because they give us a lot of instructions, coming from the Prime minister of Lesotho, in trying to talk to the executives of Harmony (mining company) and everybody,” he said

In addition Minister Mantashe said, he thinks it is a dangerous issue for neighbors to do that to one another (referring to what he alleges Lesotho is doing to South Africa).

“Lesotho must come partner with us in mining if they want to. They must come through the front door. We have done that with their water, we went there, met them, had a bilateral and we committed ourselves. The president has visited Lesotho and so on. They should do that.”

On another sad note Minister Mpotjoane, reported on the deaths of two other Basotho nationals and the injuring of several others after an uncontrollable fire engulfed the factories, where Basotho were working in Newcastle, Kwa-Zulu Natal. A total of 17 Basotho nationals were reported to have been injured.

“On Saturday the 24th of June, two factories were reported to have been burnt down in Kwa-Zulu Natal. The source of the fire is still yet to be confirmed but officials from Lesotho’s High Commission in Durban availed themselves on the scene to assess the severity of the situation.

“ A lot of Basotho worked in that area, the 17 injured were immediately rushed to hospital, eight of them who were deemed to have sustained moderate to mild injuries were discharged at a later stage, four remained in hospital, three were reported to be in a critical condition, while two others unfortunately lost their lives,” he said.

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