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Despite a big rescue operation, up to 200 illegal gold miners trapped underground in South Africa are said to be reluctant to emerge because they fear being arrested.

Several did come to the surface on Monday morning, thinking police had left the site near Johannesburg. But officers were reportedly hidden and arrests are said to have been made.

“This was a closed shaft,” said the Head of Disaster and Emergency Services Management, Moshima Mosiya. “It was closed with concrete slabs, deliberately, so as to prevent people from entering but they have somehow managed to open up a hole in the side.”

A dozen or so of the diggers, thought to have been trapped since Saturday morning by boulders falling underground, were rescued on Sunday and are set to appear in court.

The exact number still underground remains unclear.

Illegal mining of abandoned shafts is common in South
Africa where informal miners excavate ore to sell, often living underground in dangerous and precarious conditions. Fatal accidents are common, and underground battles between rival groups have also been reported.

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