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South Africa: 31 Dead in Methane Blast At Disused Gold Mine

Although the blast took place over a month ago, details are only now being revealed. Authorities said the victims are believed to be “zama zamas,” or illegal miners, from the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho.

At least 31 people are believed to have died in a methane explosion at an abandoned gold mine in South Africa last month, officials said on Friday.

The incident occurred on May 18 in a ventilation shaft at the Virginia gold mine outside Welkom, some 260 kilometers (160 miles) from Johannesburg.

But the details of what the government called “a unique and strange situation” are only now coming to light.

Government planning search operation

South Africa’s Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) determined that methane levels were abnormally high in the ventilation shaft of the mine and an explosion had occurred.

“It is currently too risky to dispatch a search team to the shaft. However, we are considering various options to speedily deal with the situation,” the DMRE said.

The victims are believed to be “zama zamas,” or illegal gold miners, from neighboring Lesotho.

Thousands of “zama zamas” work in South Africa, scouring abandoned mines for gold and other minerals. They often work in dangerous conditions.

“We are receiving reports that other suspected illegal miners have assisted in retrieving in at least three bodies, so 28 are believed to still be underground,” a DMRE spokesperson told the AFP news agency.