, JOHANNESBURG, Aug 13 – Four bodies were found deep within an abandoned gold mine, South African police said Friday, after reports of a shoot-out between illegal miners and security guards.
The mine, which was shut down amid complaints from workers that they had not been paid for months, is co-owned by a grandson of former president Nelson Mandela and a nephew of President Jacob Zuma through a firm called Aurora Empowerment System.
The Sowetan newspaper reported Thursday that security guards at the Aurora gold mine east of Johannesburg had opened fire Monday on a group of illegal miners, leaving as many as 20 dead underground.
But police called off the search for more bodies around midday on Friday, saying they were still investigating how the miners died.
"So far we have found four bodies," police spokeswoman Noxolo Kweza told AFP.
"We don\’t know at the moment (what happened), we\’re still trying to piece together the information of what exactly happened there."
The ruling African National Congress condemned the killings.
"The mine management and the responsible security company should have sought the assistance of the South African Police on suspicion of crime being committed in their mine, rather than shooting at first instance," spokesman Jackson Mthembu said in a statement.
"We appeal to our law enforcement agencies to investigate this matter with the urgency it deserves."
The National Union of Mineworkers also called for an investigation, saying the dead may have been former Aurora employees who resumed mining on their own after going unpaid for months and then being left jobless when the mine closed.
"We suspect that of course there may be a possibility that those who have been workers at Aurora, because of the dire circumstances they are finding themselves in, could have gone to this extreme to try and save themselves," union spokesman Lesiba Seshoka told AFP.
Illegal mining in the bowels of South Africa\’s abandoned pits has long plagued the world\’s third-largest gold producer, with diggers — known as "zama zamas" (try, try) — living sometimes for months underground to smuggle the precious metal.