The dead are believed 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.
The bodies, some of which were badly decomposed, were found outside a mine shaft and near the Orkney Railway, about 180 km (111 miles) southwest of Johannesburg, according to the statement from police released Wednesday.
He also said the bodies “were found wrapped in white plastic bags” and bore “severe body burns”. An autopsy will be performed, the statement added.
“All of the deceased are believed to be illegal miners commonly known as ‘zama zamas’ operating in obsolete wells 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 identity of the men.
“This follows unconfirmed reports over the weekend that a number of illegal miners died in an underground explosion,” he said.
The SABC quoted Mokgwabone as saying, “These are all male bodies and I can confirm that at this point they have not yet been identified and that they were badly decomposed and had severe burns. Our investigation is still ongoing and we hope that as we move forward with the investigations. We will be able to find out who these people are and perhaps what may have led to this particular incident. “
Thousands of “zama zamas” – which means “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, more people are involved in illegal mining activities, most of them run by crime syndicates. Almost 50 percent of blacks still live in poverty almost 30 years since the end of white rule.