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02 August 2011

Two diamond miners crushed to death

TWO Northern Cape men have been killed while illegally mining diamonds at an abandoned Namaqualand mine – but this has not stopped hundreds of destitute locals from continuing the illegal mining.

Patrick Bates, 54, and his nephew, Marco Milford, 26, were killed when their excavation collapsed on them in the early hours of July 21.

Bates, a former De Beers employee, was illegally mining diamonds with Milford and three other men at the Langklip mine near Mitchell’s Bay.

Bates and Milford were among hundreds of unemployed men from Kommagas and other small towns who illegally dig for diamonds after closure of the mines.

Bates’s older sister, Hilda Fairbairn, said: “We are traumatised by their deaths, but we can’t blame anyone for it. No one forced them to go except their circumstances.”

They were buried at the Calvyns Protestant Church in Kommagas on Saturday.

“The circumstances here are that everyone is mining illegally because most people are unemployed. De Beers has always been the sole provider of employment in Kommagas and other small towns. Everyone lost their jobs and they know there are still diamonds there because they worked there,” Fairbairn said.

Bates lost his job at De Beers five years ago.

“He got his pension pay-out monthly, but it wasn’t enough. He had five children and two of them were still in school,” Fairbairn said.

Fairbairn said the deaths did not scare any of the men in the town who were seen going back to the mines the night after the accident. Men from as far as Angola were also mining illegally.

“It is the duty of the mining companies to secure the mines 24/7. If they do that the guys won’t be able to get there,” Fairbairn said.

Tom Tweedy, spokesman for De Beers, said around 120 people were working on the rehabilitation of the mines while the transfer of mining rights to Trans Hex was under way.

“A lot of locals worked for De Beers and the criteria for the bidders was that they had to have the interests of the community represented. This is so tragic, there is no need for people to engage in illicit mining and it is really a big worry. No one needs to die because the mines will reopen,” Tweedy said.

He added that dozens of people had been arrested and prosecuted for illegal mining in the past two years.

De Beers chief operating officer Martin Preece said the company had taken many steps over the years to eradicate illegal mining.

“It must be clear that safe mining cannot be undertaken other than when legitimate state-regulated mining occurs by those holding legal mining rights and complying with the many conditions associated with such rights. These activities harm the future potential of the mine and impact negatively on the region, the community and the local economy.”

- Cape Times