CAPE TOWN (miningweekly.com) – An inquiry into an accident at the Lily gold mine, in Barberton, Mpumalanga, a year ago, will start within the next few days. This follows the wrapping up of an investigation by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR).
The primary objective of the inquiry is to find the container in which three employees, Pretty Nkambule, Yvonne Mnisi and Solomon Nyirende, were trapped and bring it to the surface, so that their families can get closure, Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane said at the Investing in African Mining Indaba, in Cape Town, on Monday.
The container with the trapped miners is buried about 80 m under rock in a sinkhole. Seventy-six other employees were rescued after the accident on February 5 last year.
The DMR said a further deterioration in the area, as well as the collapse of high walls surrounding the area, had made rescue efforts impossible.
“We understand fully the frustrations expressed by the families and the public at large on the amount of time it has taken to conclude this process, but we want to assure South Africa that no effort is being spared to ensure this matter is resolved,” Zwane said.
He said an investigation into the incident had been converted into an inquiry in terms of the Mine Health and Safety Act. No mining can resume until has inquiry has been concluded.
“Should it be found that there was any recklessness or negligence which resulted in the accident, the law will take its course,” said the Minister. He said the DMR was also in talks with the National Prosecuting Authority to strengthen the ability to prosecute those who were negligent in their responsibilities.
Zwane said the health and safety of employees was critical for the long-term sustainability of the mining industry.
“We continue to urge all stakeholders in the mining industry to make this a priority. The lives of employees should not be cheapened.”
The company, Vantage Goldfields, and its business rescue practitioner, remain liable for the payment of R200 000 to each of the trapped workers’ families, as well as R50 000 each to the rescued employees.
“We appeal for the cooperation of all involved as the inquiry commences and wish to, once again, assure the families, employees and the public at large, that this matter will continue to receive the priority attention it deserves.”
President Jacob Zuma had established an inter-Ministerial Committee of Ministers, drawn from the departments of mineral resources, social development and women, to support the families and employees affected by the accident.