CAPE TOWN – The Department of Mineral Resources says the investigation into the tragic Lily Mine disaster, which left three mineworkers trapped underground, will be converted into an inquiry.
Xolile Mbonambi, the Acting Chief Inspector of Mines, said this when the department appeared before the Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources to give an update of progress made with regards to the mine disaster.
Three mineworkers – Solomon Nyirende, Yvonne Mnisi and Pretty Nkambule – were trapped underground when a shipment container that was used as a lamp room sunk underground on 5 February 2016.
“The department is greatly concerned about the prolonged business rescue process and its continued impact on the affected families of the trapped miners.
“This matter is being considered in collaboration with other stakeholders like the Industrial Development Corporation and unions.
“The department has commenced with the investigation into the underlying causes of the accident.
“The accident investigation will be converted into an inquiry, in terms of section 66 of the Mine Health and Safety Act,” Mbonambi said.
He said the joint operating committee that is dealing with the disaster will continue to assist and support the three families of the trapped miners to ensure that all parties find a sustainable way forward and that the families of the three trapped miners find closure.
Mineral Resources Deputy Minister Godfrey Oliphant said the disaster was a very difficult one for the country.
He said mine health safety remained a top priority for the sector and that one life lost is one life too many.
“It is a difficult matter not only for the families, but also for the country as well because we have never seen something like that before happening in the industry, where we are unable to help our own while we have been the ones who have used our expertise elsewhere to assist others.
“This one is the trickiest one and we are dealing with that,” he said.
He said months of investigations and rescue efforts at the mine to recover the sunk container and the bodies of the three miners have come up short.
“Sadly those comrades and employees are still trapped underground… Since February, [there has been] an engagement with the Minister and the mine. There were three issues, one relating to rescue and recovery of the three people, and the other one related to the announcement of paying the families and those that were rescued at the mine some gratuitous amounts, and the last one was really doing the investigations,” he said.
After the tragedy, President Jacob Zuma appointed an Inter-Ministerial Committee of three Ministers – Mineral Resources, Social Development and Women – to work with the mine and to offer support to the family.
A Joint Operating Committee consisting of representatives from the three departments was established by the Inter-Ministerial Committee to deal with short, medium- to long-term strategies on Lily Mine.
In the main, the Joint Operating Committee was tasked with providing assistance to the families, mineworkers and affected community members.
Deputy Minister Oliphant visited Lily Mine and held a meeting with mine management and the business rescue practitioners on 15 September.
A follow-up meeting was held on 7 October with the aim of giving families feedback on the stability of the surface and underground conditions.
“The department also facilitated several discussions between the mining company and the IDC to fast-track funding matters of the new decline.
“The company and the business rescue practitioners indicated that the compensation to the families and workers that were trapped underground will occur once the funding for the complete project has been raised,” Oliphant said.
The project for the retrieving of the container will only commence once the access decline shaft has been completed and access to that area is safe.
“We met with the business rescue practitioners in charge of the mine. We also brought in the mine rescue services to come and relook at the whole matter.
“Their problem was finances. I went there myself with the President of the Chamber of Mines and looked into the whole story and [to check] what were their assurances. We gave ourselves two weeks to go relook at the place and we went to consult with the financial institutions to hear what the problems were and the mine also assured us that the mine rescue practitioners finally got the money.
“They even assured us on the 15th of November, they would have paid the families the [sums of] R200 000 that they were promised. The [sums of] R50 000 for the rest of the people who were rescued [should be] paid on 15 December.
“Regrettably when it came to the 15th of November, they had not honoured that commitment. We tried to get to the bottom of it but we are hoping that before the 15th of December, this matter would have been resolved.”
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