Cape Town – Trade union federation Cosatu has called for the temporary closure of all Sibanye-Stillwater’s operations following the death of two miners at its Kloof mine.
The two mineworkers died after fall-of-ground incident in the early hours of Wednesday, 7 February.
Located on the far West Rand, some 60km south-west of Johannesburg, the Kloof Operation is a complex of intermediate to ultra-deep-level mines at depths of between 1,300m and 3,350m below surface.
Cosatu said it wants all Sibanye Stillwater operations to be paused, not just those at Kloof gold mine, “until the safety of the workers can be guaranteed”.
“Workers are dying like flies and the ineffectual government is sitting on its hands. The Department of Labour needs to account for its failure to monitor and deal with the poor safety record of Sibanye Stillwater,” said Sizwe Pamla, Cosatu’s spokesperson, in a statement.
“We demand action from both these government departments (Labour and Mineral Resources) as soon as possible to avert any further fatalities.”
Sibanye-Stillwater spokesperson James Wellsted told Fin24 on Thursday that a joint investigation by the mining group, the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) and trade unions into the deaths has been launched.
While the investigation proceeds, operations at the mine have been suspended.
The DMR would propose remedial action based on the outcomes of the report. If it was found that all safety procedures were observed, the mine will remain open.
“Cosatu’s call is therefore puzzling as they are aware of the procedures that are followed,” said Wellsted. “Due process is being followed and we will ensure that we comply with the decision following the investigation”.
Last week, 952 miners were temporarily trapped at another Sibanye-Stillwater mine in Welkom, following an electric cable outage during a storm. All 952 workers were rescued alive on Friday at Sibanye-Stillwater’s Beatrix gold mine in Welkom, in the Free State. They had been trapped at Level 24 underground since Wednesday night after a severe storm cut power supply to the mine’s Shaft 1.
Speaking to African News Agency outside the mine on 2 February, NUM national spokesperson Livhuwani Mmamburu said that the union was deeply worried about the rising number of safety incidents in the country’s mines.
“This is a very worrying situation for us. As a union, we are calling for an infrastructure audit to be done on all South African mines to determine if they are prepared to handle incidents of power failures,” Mmamburu said.
Referring to a 2007 incident at Harmony Gold’s Kusasalethu mine in Carletonville where 3 500 workers trapped underground were rescued through an emergency exit, Mmamburu argued that “There is no reason why a mine like Beatrix should not have emergency exits if the cage fails to work. The fact that generators also failed to kick in is worrying. That is why we are calling for an infrastructure audit to see why are all these incidents are happening.”
“The death toll in the mining industries in South Africa remains shockingly high with at least 81 people killed in 2017 alone,” said the union’s Phakamile Hlubi-Majola. The union also said it made this call to the Department of Mineral Resources last week already but received no response.
The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) says that the deaths of two miners at Sibanye’s Kloof mine on the West Rand should serve as a wakeup call for the Mineral Resources Department to deal with the carelessness of mining companies.
Denosa’s Sibongiseni Delihlazo says the safety of workers at mines should be non-negotiable.
“You can’t risk their [mineworkers] lives just because you prioritise profit over their livelihood. That cannot be tolerated, and that’s why we’re in solidarity with NUM to ensure that the interest of workers is secured.”
A Wake up Call with Snooze function?
Already in November 2017, the Union has called for an investigation into rising fatalities in the mining industry after two mineworkers died following a seismic event at AngloGold Ashanti’s Mponeng Mine, near Carletonville in North West.
NUM’s Secretary for Health & Safety, Erick Gcilitshana then said “A thorough investigation is needed to get to the bottom of the fatalities.”
Gcilitshana said the increasing number of fall-of-ground incidents, particularly in Klerksdorp and Carletonville, was worrying. Two mineworkers died at the Mponeng mine in October 2017, while two others died at AngloGolds’ Kopanang mine in September due to fall-of-ground incidents.
Four mineworkers died in July at the Tau Lekoa mine owned by Heaven Sent, a Chinese venture capital firm following a fall-of-ground incident and five others died at Harmony Gold’s Kusasalethu mine in August.
At the time, Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane said the Kusasalethu incident should be a “turning point” in the health and safety of the country’s mining industry, and government would be tougher in exercising its powers on regulatory issues.
There were 73 fatalities in the industry last year, down from 77 in 2015, excluding the three mineworkers at the Lily Mine in Barberton. Pretty Nkambule, Solomon Nyarenda and Yvonne Mnisi, who went missing after the shipping container they were working in was buried when an underground supporting pillar collapsed last February.
30 Years, and we are still on a Wake-up call…
On 16 September 1986, there was a massive underground collapse at the Kinross coal mine, which resulted in the death of 177 workers. Their bodies were never recovered.
These are the realities that Zwane faced when he officially opened the annual Investing in African Mining Indaba in Cape Town to promote South Africa’s mineral wealth and competitiveness on Monday the 5th to the 8th of February. The Indaba is the world’s largest gathering of mining’s most influential stakeholders and decision-makers in African mining.
“The inquiry into the Lily mine accident has been concluded, and a report will be submitted to the department in the next few weeks,” said Zwane. “We would all agree that closure and finality are critical on this matter, especially for the families of Miss Yvonne Mini, Miss Pretty Mkambule, and Mr Solomon Nyerende,” he said.
The industry’s application to review the implementation of the contentious Reviewed Mining Charter is set to be heard in the North Gauteng High Court on February 19 to 21. It remains to be seen if the pressing issues of mine health & safety will be part and parcel of the Charter after its review.
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Sources: Fin24, Miningweekly.com, Miningmx.com, EWN.co.za, Brinkwire.com