South Africa: Police discover 21 bodies they suspect were moved to Johannesburg mine site

Police officers arrive at the mine where 21 people died in South Africa.
Police initially discovered 19 bodies on Wednesday. Credit: AP

South African police are investigating the discovery of at least 21 bodies found near an active mine in the town of Krugersdorp, west of Johannesburg.

According to police, 19 bodies were discovered on Wednesday, before officers found two further bodies on Thursday.

Police said they suspect that the dead may have been illegal miners, whose bodies were moved to the location where they were later found - at a privately owned mine.

“We can confirm that this morning our search and rescue team went back to the scene and, as they were searching, they discovered two more bodies. They retrieved them from an open [mine] shaft,” police spokeswoman Brenda Muridili said.

Ms Muridili added evidence found on the scene suggested the people did not die where their bodies were found, but that "no foul play" was suspected.

She confirmed that the bodies would undergo autopsies.

The Sowetan newspaper reported that the bodies were believed to have been those of illegal miners, who may have died when a tunnel at a different mine collapsed.

However, police have declined to confirm any causes of death until the results of the autopsies are revealed.

The newspaper, quoting an unnamed illegal miner, said the bodies were moved so police wouldn't find where the illegal mining was taking place.

The grim discovery is the latest in a series of incidents linked to the practice in the Krugersdorp area.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...

In July, eight female members of a film crew were raped and robbed at an abandoned mine, in the area where they were working on a music video shoot.

The incident sparked violent protests against illegal miners in surrounding communities.

South Africa has struggled with illegal mining for a number of years, with miners known locally as “zama zamas” searching for gold at the many disused and abandoned mines in and around the Johannesburg region.

Illegal mining gangs are considered dangerous by the police, are usually armed and known to fight violent turf battles with rival groups.

The trade is believed to be dominated by immigrants who enter illegally from neighboring countries, including Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.