Illegal miners ‘starved’ to death

Illegal miners ‘starved’ to death

MASERU – THEY were literally starved to death after the police allegedly blockaded their way out. Others died of dehydration.
Those that were lucky to be rescued were so emaciated they had to seek urgent medical attention.
Now Lesotho’s foreign affairs minister Lesego Makgothi is seething with anger, accusing the South African police of killing the illegal miners.
The incident at a gold mine in Welkom, South Africa, could torch a diplomatic row between Lesotho and South Africa.

At least one illegal miner has been declared dead, nine others are unaccounted for while 26 have been rescued from an unused shaft of St Helena Gold Mine in Welkom last weekend.
The number of Basotho that could have been operating illegally in the shaft is not yet clear. Makgothi said preliminary investigation had revealed that the dead miner is a Mosotho.
He took a swipe at South African police.
Makgothi said the Welkom police deliberately blocked routes that were used to supply food to the illegal miners “knowing well that they could die of hunger”.
“Those who were rescued were so emaciated that they had to be hurriedly rushed to a hospital,” Makgothi said.
“We know that South Africa does not have a death sentence (in its statutes) and we don’t understand why the police, not courts of law, decided to sentence these criminals to death,” he said.
“We take this as a serious violation of human rights. We do not promote their criminal activities but at the same time we strongly feel that South Africa has violated their rights to life,” he said.
Makgothi maintains that the South African police should have used other means to force the illegal miners to surrender “instead of doing things that they know well that they can kill them”.
Makgothi said the actions by Welkom police amount to a prosecutable offence in South Africa.

The minister however declined to say whether Lesotho will push for prosecution of the Welkom police.
Others are less sympathetic to the plight of the illegal miners.
Prominent lawyer and leader of the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) party, Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane, said he did “not have time to comment about criminals who have become a nuisance in other countries”.

The President of the Law Society of Lesotho, Advocate Tekane Maqakachane, said the Welkom “police have a serious case to answer if what is said about them is true”.
“It is a prosecutable crime in South Africa to expose someone to anything that might endanger their lives,” Maqakachane said.
The wife of the dead illegal miner, ’Mabokang Letšumu, 33, told thepost that her husband Tšeliso Letšumu was not picking up his phone when she tried calling him in mid-October.
She texted him several times but he did not respond.

She only learnt of his death on October 19 after she asked her brothers to make follow up calls. Her brothers were told by illegal miners that they were hesitant to inform her that Tšeliso starved to death.

“They told my brothers that my husband died a week preceding October 19,” Letšumu said.
She went to Welkom and met Lesotho’s consular seeking help but “the police were not cooperative”.
“I went to the mine’s security department but they told me that they only help if a miner is legally operating. They don’t help the illegals,” she said.
Her voice cracking with anger, Letšumu told thepost that she was hoping the Lesotho government can negotiate with South Africa “so that my husband is brought up and be buried at home”.
Their home is at St Michael’s in Leribe.

They have three children and Tšeliso was the breadwinner.
Makgothi said Letšumu is working with Lesotho’s consular in Welkom to solve the problem.
Letšumu said her husband’s colleagues later told her that the nine miners who are said to be unaccounted have died and “they have put them in a pile inside one of the shafts because they were so weak that they did not have any strength to bring them up”.

Nkheli Liphoto

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