Trapped South African Miners Can Either Stay in Mine or Get Arrested

Possibly 200 miners would rather stay trapped underground than go to jail.

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Suspected illegal gold miners trapped in a South African mine have a choice: get rescued and arrested, or stay in the mine.

Eleven miners were rescued from the shaft, near Johannesburg, yesterday and promptly arrested. When the other trapped miners -- it's not known how many are down there but some reports say it could be as many as 200 -- saw that, they decided to stay down there. The rescue operation has been postponed until the miners change their minds.

Currently, the BBC reports, a "private security company" is guarding the mine to make sure the rescue can resume if the miners request it and to make sure no one else tries an "unauthorized" rescue attempt.

Mining is big business in South Africa. Mineral and metals make up 60 percent of the country's export revenue. It's the fourth-biggest gold exporter in the world. But the mining industry has been fraught with worker strikes (and police shootings of those strikers) and talk of nationalization. Also danger -- just last week, 10 miners were killed in two separate incidents in Harmony Gold-owned mines.

Illegal miners break into abandoned shafts, living underground for weeks. In this case, a concrete slab fell over the tunnel's entrance (either by accident or because a rival illegal mining group pushed it there) sometime on Saturday. The miners were discovered by a police patrol that heard their cries for help.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.