The bodies of 25 illegal South African miners have been recovered from an abandoned mine after an explosion last week, with rescue operations continuing, local media said Wednesday.
The bodies have been brought out of the mine near Welkom in Free State province since Monday, police told the eNCA news channel.
Many old gold mines in South Africa have been targeted for illegal mining, when impoverished men dig for nuggets which they sell on the black market.
The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) said it was horrified by the deaths, and said illegal miners were “marginalised and desperate workers trying to survive by any means possible.”
“The police still have no idea how many more bodies may still be underground and have so far not been able to identify most of those recovered,” it added in a statement.
Many illegal miners in South Africa are from neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance party called for an intensified search to rescue any survivors still trapped in the mine shaft.
Gold mining was for many decades the backbone of South Africa’s economy, but production has over the last few years declined due to depletion of reserves.