Sibanye Gold says 303 illegal miners who have come to the surface have been arrested at its strike-shut Cooke operations near Johannesburg as the company tries to stamp out illicit mining at its operations.

Sibanye has in recent weeks charged 58 of its employees with collusion and assisting hundreds of people illegally mining gold from four Cooke shafts close to Randfontein.

The Cooke shafts, which are not a core operation for Sibanye, are the worst affected by illegal mining within the group — the country’s largest producer of domestic gold.

The operations were idled by a wildcat strike that started last Tuesday and were losing production of 15kg of gold a day, equivalent to R7.8m a day.

The strike had yielded an unexpected benefit as illegal miners were forced to the surface for sustenance now that their providers in the workforce were on strike and no longer going underground, spokesman James Wellsted said.

The unprotected strike started after Sibanye signed a memorandum of understanding with the majority union, the National Union of Mineworkers, to ban food underground to prevent it going to illegal miners.

Employees can earn thousands of rand for smuggling food, alcohol, cigarettes and even women underground.

At least 40 illegal miners were killed in an underground blast at the closed Eland shaft near the Free State town of Welkom in May, highlighting the dangers of the practice.

“Illegal mining — in which high-level and international syndicates are the primary beneficiaries — remains a significant challenge for companies, government and the police, as well as communities, who often bear the brunt of many of its associated social ills,” the Chamber of Mines’s former president, Mike Teke, said at the time.

Before the Cooke strike, 101 illegal miners had been arrested and 58 employees charged.

The striking workers ignored a court interdict issued on Thursday to return to work on Friday, leading to Sibanye launching disciplinary procedures against 1,800 employees who were told to go home. Since the strike started, another 202 illegals had surfaced from all four shafts, including the mothballed Cooke 4 shaft, and were arrested, Wellsted said.

The size of illegal mining in SA is difficult to quantify as old, abandoned mines are infiltrated by gangs who send teams to work underground in unsafe conditions for weeks or months at a time. These teams are largely made up of nationals from neighbouring countries.

Sibanye CEO Neal Froneman has said he wanted to stop illegal mining at Sibanye’s Cooke, Kloof, Driefontein and Beatrix gold mines by the end of 2017.


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