Into the lion’s den

CityPress - - News - POLOKO TAU poloko.tau@city­press.co.za

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

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