The dead are thought to be illegal miners whose decomposed bodies were discovered near an abandoned mine in the city of Orkney.
South African police have launched an investigation into the deaths of 20 men whose bodies were discovered near an abandoned gold mine in the North West province.
According to a police statement issued Wednesday, the bodies, some of which were badly decomposed, were found outside a mine shaft and near railroad tracks in Orkney, about 180 km (111 miles) southwest. of Johannesburg.
He also said the bodies “were found wrapped in white plastic bags” and that they were carrying “serious bruises on the body”. An autopsy will be performed, the statement added.
“All the dead are suspected to be illegal miners commonly known as ‘zama zamas’ operating in obsolete trees in Orkney and Stilfontein,” the statement said.
“The first five bodies were discovered on Monday and 15 (more) bodies” on Tuesday, police spokesman Brigadier Sabata Mokgwabone told AFP news agency.
According to South African broadcaster SABC News, police have yet to determine the identities of the men.
“This follows unconfirmed reports over the weekend that a number of illegal miners were killed in an underground explosion,” he said.
SABC quoted Mokgwabone as saying: “They are all male bodies and I can confirm that at this stage they are not yet identified and that they were badly decomposed and had serious burn injuries. Our investigation is still ongoing and we hope that as we move forward with the investigations .We can know who these people are and maybe as to what might have led to this particular incident. ”
Thousands of “zama zamas” – meaning “those who try their luck” in Zulu – operate in the country, according to the South African Commission on Human Rights.
The mining industry, which employs nearly half a million people, contributed about 8 percent of the country’s total GDP last year. However, a larger number of people are involved in illegal mining activities, most of them run by criminal unions. About 50 percent of blacks have been living in poverty for nearly 30 years since the end of the white rule.