South African police are investigating the discovery of at least 21 bodies of suspected illegal miners, found near an active mine in the town of Krugersdorp, west of Johannesburg.
According to police, 19 bodies were recovered on Wednesday afternoon and two more were found on Thursday morning. Police said they suspect that the bodies were moved to the location where they were found, which is a privately-owned mine.
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“We can confirm that this morning our search and rescue team went back to the scene and, as they were searching, they discovered two more bodies,” police spokeswoman Brenda Muridili said on Thursday. “They retrieved them from an open [mine] shaft.”
The discovery is the latest in a series of incidents related to illegal mining in the Krugersdorp area. In July, eight female members of a film crew were raped and robbed at an abandoned mine in the area, where they were working on a music video shoot. 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Last week, rape and robbery charges against 14 men, who are also suspected of being illegal miners, were withdrawn after police could not link them to the rapes through DNA evidence. The men were among more than 80 people arrested during police raids on the abandoned mine where the rapes took place.
Illegal mining is rife in South Africa, with miners known locally as “zama zamas” searching for gold at the many disused and abandoned mines in and around the Johannesburg region. Krugersdorp is a mining town on the western edges of Johannesburg.
Illegal mining gangs, usually armed, are considered dangerous by the police and are known to fight violent turf battles with rival groups. The trade is believed to be dominated by immigrants who enter illegally from neighbouring countries Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique.
The 14 men who had rape and robbery charges against them dropped are accused of being in South Africa illegally and have been charged with immigration offences.