A rescued miner is examined by emergency services before being handed over to South African police.
A rescued miner is examined by emergency services before being handed over to South African police.

At least 11 illegal miners trapped in an abandoned underground shaft in South Africa have been rescued.

More than 200 miners are still trapped below the surface of the gold mine in Benoni, near Johannesburg, with many reportedly reluctant to emerge because they fear being arrested.

"Several miners have been brought to surface," emergency service ER24 said in a statement.

"As they are being lifted out of the one square metre hole, they are escorted to the medical station where they are checked for any injuries. Once they are cleared they are taken into custody by the local police and EMPD (Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Police Department)."

Rescuers said they were able to communicate with about 30 miners trapped by a large boulder near the surface of the mine.

ER24 said it remains unclear if there is any truth to statements made by miners to the rescuers that several others are trapped in a separate section of the mine.

"Once the first group have been brought to the surface, rescue workers will make their way down to inspect and search for other miners," the statement added.

The miners are believed to have been trapped since Saturday morning when the entrance to the mine became blocked. Rescuers said a concrete slab and some boulders appeared to have been moved recently.

South Africa is a major producer of gold and platinum, and illegal mining is common in the country.

Illegal miners, known as zama zama, often risk their lives in unsafe conditions to extract precious metals from shafts. According to local reports, it is common for criminal gangs to trap rival miners by closing off the entrance to mines.

A 2008 study of South Africa's gold sector found that an estimated $509m (£305m) in revenue is lost each year to illegal mining.