Four soldiers who started a fire in their container to ward off the bitter cold while on the lookout for illegal miners have been found dead from suspected carbon monoxide poisoning.

According to SA National Defence Force (SANDF) spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini, the soldiers were on duty in Orkney, North West, as part of Operation Vala Umgodi aimed at combating illegal mining activities.

The bodies had no injuries and the soldiers’ rifles and their personal items were still with them, Dlamini said. An inquest case has been opened.

“A team from the Pretoria FSL [Forensic Science Laboratory] chemistry unit also attended the scene, and preliminary findings are that the deaths of the members could have been caused by carbon monoxide poisoning from a possible fire made by the members during the cold night inside the container structure,” said Dlamini.

He said the four were deployed on a 24-hour shift at Shaft 3, a dormant mining shaft in Orkney, North West, near the disused Harry Oppenheimer Stadium, a hotspot for illegal mining.

Dlamini said the soldiers were found dead on Saturday morning inside a container used as a guard house for those on 24-hour duty.

He said those taking over the shift discovered the bodies when they opened the container’s door.

Police were called to the scene when the bodies were found.

“On inspection of the scene, all four had died, with their rifles on them and their personal items still with them. The bodies of the deceased were transported to the Klerksdorp state mortuary for further investigation and postmortem.

“The names of the deceased will be announced once the families have been informed and all processes and formalities have been completed, followed by the announcement of the funeral arrangements,” said Dlamini.

“The minister of defence and military veterans, Angie Motshekga, together with the department, send their condolences to the families of the deceased and the entire defence family.”

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