A fateful day for Pretty Nkambule
Only R4.4m pledged to the 76 surviving mine workers
Pretty Nkambule was supposed to work an afternoon shift but did the morning one instead to cover for a colleague. That shift coincided with the collapse at Lily Mine in Louisville, outside Barberton, nine days ago, and Nkambule has been trapped in the bowels of the earth with two colleagues, Yvonne Mnisi and Solomon Nyarende. In addition to the trio, 76 other mine workers were trapped, but were rescued because they were already in the shaft when the ground collapsed.
Nkambule (24) was working in a container lamp room perched next to the tunnel of the gold mine. It plunged about 60 metres, down five levels, and the mine’s rescue teams have been working around the clock to recover the container.
Nkambule’s husband, Christopher Mazibuko (38), also a mine worker at the processing plant in another location, said he last saw her an hour before the collapse.
“I sent her ‘please call me’ messages at about 7am, but she didn’t respond. Then she called me back an hour later and said she was still busy giving mine workers their lamps as they were going underground and would call me back,” Mazibuko said.
“At 9am, I heard the mine had collapsed and rushed there. She was not supposed to work that morning, but a colleague asked her to cover for her as she was delayed somewhere.”
The couple have four children: three sons aged 13, nine and seven, and an eight-month-old daughter.
The nine-year-old, Mazibuko said, pointed at a mustard belt he was wearing and warned: “You’re wearing mummy’s belt and she’s going to get you.
“I sleep with the kids and they’re looking at me, hoping I’ll come with their mother one day.”
Mazibuko paid eight cattle to Nkambule’s family in lobola last year and they were building a house together.
Nkambule’s brother Mangaliso (32), a wiry man, said he wished he was the one who was dead. “If I could change fate, I would die in my sister’s place. Why is it that a useful person dies and the useless ones survive?”
Beside taking care of her own children, Nkambule was feeding her siblings and paying for two of them to attend university in Pretoria and the Free State. Management of an Mpumalanga gold mine that collapsed nine days ago has pledged R4.4 million to compensate the 76 surviving mine workers and the families of the three still trapped underground.
Mike McChesney, chief executive officer of Vantage Goldfields, which owns Lily Mine, said each surviving mine worker would receive R50 000 while the three families would each be given R200 000. Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane said yesterday the department negotiated with the mine to consider the compensation. “The compensation will be paid by the mine … They have been selfless and cooperative,” Zwane said.
The mine decided to suspended its rescue mission to recover the three trapped mine workers yesterday, following another rock collapse at the entrance of the mine’s tunnel in the early hours of Saturday morning. It is awaiting assistance from international and local private companies to provide their expertise. The three remain trapped underground without food or water, and their chances of survival are slim.
Zwane, along with Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza, announced that government would be asking private sector companies to help with the rescue mission by providing advanced expertise, because it had now become “too risky” for the mine’s team.
On the first and second day of the collapse, McChesney said the mine had sent drones to identify the container, but this had failed. They then sent electromagnetic survey equipment, which picked up reactions or tappings from inside the container.
The distance of the container was estimated to be 15 metres from the team, which has been removing about 500 tons of rock and soil blocking their way.
The department, Zwane said, would only investigate the cause of the accident after the three had been found.
“We have a crisis … People are trapped underground. Issues of investigation and the outcome will be dealt with after the people have been recovered,” he said.
DAY OF DISASTER Emotional family members gather near the collapsed part of Lily Mine during rescue operations