277 miners die in South Africa in past year

CAPE TOWN, July 2 (Reuters) – Some 277 workers have died in South African mines in the past year, almost half of them in illegal operations, Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu said on Thursday. “The number of deaths due to mining incidents for the period of June 1, 2008 to June 1, 2009 were 142 deaths of miners lawfully employed (and) 135 deaths of illegal miners,” Shabangu said in a written reply to a question in parliament.

South Africa, which has the world’s deepest mines, has one of the highest rates of work-related mining deaths in the industrialised world.

Shabangu gave no comparable figures for the same period the previous year. For the whole of last year 168 workers died in legal operations, down 24 percent from 2007 when 221 fatalities were reported, according to data.

The South African government has resorted to shutting down mines temporarily as it tries to enforce safety measures and curb deaths that have hurt output in the world’s top platinum producer and No. 3 gold producer.

But it has had little or no impact on illegal mining operations, which have increased because of higher metals prices especially for gold, and the first recession in 17 years in Africa’s biggest economy.

In one of the country’s worst death tolls in an illegal mining operation, 76 miners died in May when a fire broke out in an abandoned shaft belonging to Harmony Gold.

A presidential mine safety audit released in February revealed “disappointing” levels of safety compliance in the labour-intensive industry.

Parliament has passed new laws calling for tougher fines and criminal sanctions.

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(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; editing by Sue Thomas)


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