Rescue operation at the Gloria Mine, where more than 20 people are trapped underground, has been temporarily suspended. The rescue operation at the mine in Middelburg, Mpumalanga, has been halted following the theft of more copper cables.

The cables were stolen on Thursday night at the ventilation shaft, a few meters from the main shaft.

Six people have been confirmed dead.

It is alleged that the group went underground to steal copper cables. It is suspected that there was an explosion underground.

Locals managed to rescue two people and a team of experts rescued four.

Poor lighting and gas in the atmosphere prevented the experts from continuing with the operation on Thursday night. Cables worth over R50 million were stolen at a ventilation shaft.

Business Rescue Practitioner, Mike Elliot, says the theft is frustrating rescue efforts.

“We are planting new poles for an overhead power lines just behind us. Once that is erected, we would then bring a cable in from the transformer from Optimum. We connect that to the transformer and then redo all the cabling once we have all that in place. We go back to where they started stealing the cable which is about 10km away from the mine, energise all of the mine and suck the poisonous atmosphere out of the mine,” he said.

According to Elliot, the rescue mission is likely to resume next week. He says engineers are setting up the necessary machinery to pump oxygen and bring lighting underground.

“At this point in time, if the thieves don’t steal more cabling and we have all the parts to repair all things, we should be able to start on Monday to recover the bodies … recover the people from underground.”

Meanwhile, a group of workers at the mine disrupted the installation of the transformer. They say no rescue mission will continue until they get an assurance on when they will be paid their outstanding salaries.

Moses Mtsweni, shop steward for the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), says they want written proof that the workers will receive their full salaries.

“We do care about the people trapped underground; we want them to be rescued, but all now we are saying, the BRP and management, we want something written down; something concrete. When are we getting our salaries? We have been sitting with these people in meetings but the meetings are not progressive.”

It’s not clear whether the rescue mission will resume on Monday as the transformer has not been installed.

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