Crack down on illegal mining activities

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AT least 84 illegal gold miners died a fortnight ago at Harmony Gold Mine in the Free State in South Africa.

The illegal miners, who included 26 Lesotho nationals, are believed to have died at the mine after inhaling poisonous gases following a suspected underground fire.

The disaster is the latest in a string of harrowing mining accidents at disused gold mines in South Africa.

The tragedy is a stark reminder of the risks that people, owing to sheer poverty, are willing to take to make ends meet.

We wish to convey our heartfelt condolences to families who lost their loved ones in the mine disaster.

We regret the massive loss of life at Elland shaft.

The disaster presents the South African and Lesotho governments an opportunity for self-introspection.

We think it is time for the South African authorities to take a hard look at illegal mining activities in the country.

The government of Lesotho, whose nationals also perished in the disaster, needs to do a bit of soul-searching.

There is no debate that the biggest factor that has driven Basotho to the mines is poverty.

The majority of our youths are unemployed and are living in wretched poverty with no prospects of getting a job in Lesotho.

The youth unemployment rate in Lesotho is currently estimated at above 40 percent.

We know that there are no easy solutions to the crisis.

But we need proactive and intelligent policies from the government that address these challenges to give hope and a future to the youth.

Lesotho needs to improve the effectiveness of its social safety nets to take care of the poor.

Without adequate social programmes for the poor we will continue to see hundreds of our youths risk their lives through engaging in these dangerous underground activities in search of the elusive rand.

We need to put in place attractive programmes at home to stem the tide of migration to South African mines.

The great trek to the illegal mines must be halted.

The Chamber of Mines of South Africa acknowledges that illegal mining is a widespread and complex problem in the country.

The problem of unemployment is not limited to Lesotho.

In South Africa at least 50 000 mine workers were retrenched last year alone.

These desperate former mine workers could also be behind the illegal mining operations.

But what is clear is that the illegal miners are not operating alone.

The authorities in South Africa suspect that there is a massive syndicate operating in conjunction with senior officials at the mine behind the scenes.

A spokesman for the mine last week said 299 mine workers had been arrested for allegedly aiding the illegal mine operation.

Media reports say the illegal miners fork out between R1 500 and R2 000 per person to gain access to the mining premises.

These miners can spend up to three months working in extremely dangerous circumstances underground.

But the returns are said to be fantastic.

The key in halting the illegal activities lies in improving security at the mining complex.

Targeting the miners is not going to stop these illegal operations. The illegal miners are the small fish.

There appears to be bigger forces operating behind the scenes. The challenge is to identify and stop them.

Meanwhile, we hope the government of Lesotho will chip in and assist in the repatriation of the 26 illegal miners.

It is true that the miners died while engaging in criminal activities. But this is a tragedy involving Basotho. The government must not adopt a hard-line stance.

It must help repatriate the remains of the 26 to Lesotho and assist with their burial.

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