WELKOM — At least 137 Basotho are still locked up in South African jails after they were arrested for illegal mining activities, the Lesotho Times learnt this week.
Lesotho’s consul in Welkom, Sethunya Koqo, said the foreign affairs ministry had compiled a report on illegal Basotho miners held in South African prisons.
Koqo said they had established that 27 Basotho were still detained at Odendaalsrus Prison, while 12 were at Hennenman Prison.
Another 17 Basotho nationals were being detained at Ventersburg Prison, with 21 others being held at Virginia Prison.
The number of Basotho in South African prisons has since been revised to 137.
“The prisoners were very reluctant to give their full and correct identification . . . fearing further prosecution,” said Koqo in the report dated August 17.
“In some cases they were informed about my visit to the prison and they inquired as to why the government of Lesotho is getting involved in the matter,” Koqo said.
He said compilation of data was difficult because some of illegal miners did not give their true identity, preferring “giving their address (as) G-Hostel in Thabong, Welkom” where they all reside while they await employment.
Police spokesman at Welkom Police Station, Captain Stephen Thakeng, said 170 illegal miners have been arrested in South Africa since June. Of these 137 are Basotho.
The illegal miners were arrested after the South African government set up a task team last June to crack down on illegal mining activities in the Welkom area.
In a statement last week, the South African Police Service said the illegal miners were arrested for corruption, conspiracy and attempted theft of gold-bearing material and trespassing.
Those arrested included mine workers, security officers, winch drivers, on-setters and illegal miners, according to the police.
“In the arrests effected one illegal miner was found in possession of R47 100 cash while taking it underground,” said the police.
To date only four cases have been finalised by the Welkom Magistrates’ Court.
They were all charged and convicted for illegal possession of gold-bearing material.
The acting provincial commissioner in the Free State, Assistant Commissioner Thapelo Mamabolo, said the police will not rest until illegal mining was eradicated.
““We will never rest until illegal mining is totally eradicated in Matjhabeng,” Mamabolo said.
“We would like to appreciate information we receive from members of the public regarding illegal mining.
“This is a clear indication that residents are sick and tired of crime, especially illegal mining.”
About 89 illegal miners perished at Harmony Mine’s Eland shaft in Welkom after a fire broke out during an illegal mining operation last May.
Of these 48 were identified as Basotho and were repatriated home.
Another 24 were not claimed and remained at the Welkom government mortuary until they were given a pauper’s burial last Wednesday.
The unclaimed bodies were buried at Phumlane cemetery in Welkom.