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Lily Mine inquest: We were confident activities would not have caused mine collapse - geologist

12th November 2021

By: News24Wire

  

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Former Lily Mine geologist Michael Begg claimed they didn't foresee the collapse that led to the closure of the Mpumalanga gold mine.

On 5 February 2016, a shipping container above a crown pillar fell into a sinkhole, trapping three workers Solomon Nyirenda, Pretty Nkambule and Yvonne Mnisi underground.

Testifying in the Nelspruit Magistrate's Court at an inquest into the mine collapse, Begg said they were confident that what they had been doing at the mine would not have caused it to collapse.

"What happened is shocking," Begg said.

According to Begg, the entire Lily Mine was under the crown pillar, and they mined under it.

"The mine was dry and there was no water coming underground. We didn't have any issues with water underground. The ventilator shaft was never wet. Dust underground was one of our major issues," Begg said.

He later praised former mine engineer Rudiger Kersten as a well-known expert in the Lowveld mining area.

"He was an experienced engineer. He was a good man. He was not a haphazard, incompetent and [error-making] engineer. When we started going underground in 2011, Kersten requested to retire and could not carry on," said Begg.

According to a report prepared by Kersten, he (Kersten) had raised concerns about the mine structure.

Kersten suggested that the entrance of the mine be moved.

He allegedly foresaw the collapse of the crown pillar.

Begg also said illegal mining was "irritating" and revealed that the mine had employed former head of security Tjaart van Straaten to curb it.

"As we were expanding our operations, we needed to tighten our security more. We then appointed Van Straaten as the security manager. He had an impressive CV. He was the man we had wanted. He was experienced. He once protected former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.

"I held him in high regard. I worked closely with him. There was evidence in 2015 that certain employees were involved in illegal mining. We then became worried.

"There was an incident where he reported that zama zamas had opened holes near the mountain. When guards went to inspect, shots were fired at them. Van Straaten later told me that a total of 15 illegal miners were later arrested at the mine," Begg said.

An illegal miner identified as Mr X previously testified that Van Straaten had assisted zama zamas.

Mr X accused Van Straaten of receiving bribes from zama zamas before they had illegally entered the mine.

Former engineering superintendent Jacobus Jonker testified that the water pump was near the shipping container.

Jonker was then instructed to drill a borehole near the lamp room.

"The pump, which was earlier installed, was operated manually. It was a start-and-stop pump. The new pump which we installed was automated. We controlled it through a remote.

"It would operate until the water ran dry and would then stop automatically. Thirty minutes later, the pump would automatically restart operating, pumping water. My guys monitored the pump daily before they went underground. I monitored it three times a week," Jonker said.

Jonker claimed that there was a dam at level 4 where water was being pumped out.

The inquest hearing continues.

Edited by News24Wire

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