South Africa’s Sibanye Gold said on Monday that 178 illegal miners have now been arrested at its Cooke operations since the start of a violent wildcat strike last Tuesday.
A company source, who declined to be identified because he is not authorized to speak on the record, also said the strike was continuing.
Sibanye said the strike, which has seen 16 miners assaulted in a wave of intimidation, was triggered by worker anger at a company drive to root out illegal miners, which has included the arrest of employees for collusion and a policy that forbids food in underground operations.
Illegal gold mining has plagued South Africa for decades, with bullion pilfered from both operating and disused mines. Sibanye has vowed it will clear all illegal miners from its shafts by January 2018.
The Cooke mines have been at the center of illicit activities at Sibanye’s operations. Prior to the walkout, 101 illegal miners had been arrested this year along with 58 employees accused of collusion.
Illegal miners can spend weeks underground, which require large amounts of food and water – which is why Sibanye has banned its employees from taking any food underground, with union agreement.
The Cooke operations, which employ almost 4,000 underground miners, are marginal and Sibanye spokesman James Wellsted said their viability is at risk if the strike becomes prolonged.
“One of the reasons why the mine has not been performing is because many of the employees have been focused on assisting illegal miners instead of their jobs,” he said.
The illegal miners arrested have been forced to come to the surface because of the strike, which has emptied the shafts of employees, thereby starving them of their sources of food and water underground – an inadvertent consequence of the stoppage.