Into the lion’s den
Going underground is like walking into a den of tranquillised lions and not knowing when they will wake up and pounce, says Nako Dibaka*, an underground mine supervisor who leads a crew of 10 mine workers.
“I mean, the underground atmosphere is more like a walk in a field full of land mines. Any wrong move can kill you in an instant. For this reason, I give my wife a good kiss every day before I go to work because you never know if you’re going to return home,” he says.
Dibaka’s position comes with great responsibility, and he carries the lives of his crew in his hands.
“Once we get underground, I meet with my team for a talk. We will go through a report from the previous shift, plan our operation and then, as we walk to the working area, we tick each and every safety aspect on the sheet. If I doubt the safety of anything, I cannot let my team proceed until we have been cleared by specialists in that area,” he says.
On the way to the “working area”, they crack jokes and discuss soccer.
Once there, the men, who are all wearing overalls, hard hats, safety boots and protective knee caps, look at the rough, rocky ceiling, which Dibaka inspects.
“If I feel like the rock is not properly supported, I call relevant people to come and inspect it so that it can be secured,” he says.
Dibaka’s crew is part of the night shift, which does “clean-up operations” after the day shift has blasted the rock with explosives.
Dibaka and his men walk into piles of blasted rock. Before they start work, Dibaka inspects all explosives in case one did not go off. Then they begin to extract the rock and send it to the surface for processing.
Some teams, he says, pray together for protection.
“We don’t really pray as a team, but I believe – just like I do as an individual – all the other men pray before and after the shift to thank the Most High for protecting them. I have been underground and close to a section where someone was killed in a fall-of-ground incident, and the feeling of walking past a pile of rocks knowing someone is buried underneath there while you go home is heart-rending,” he says.
“Coming back home and looking at my wife and children after every shift gives me the most delightful feeling ever.”
*Not his real name