Lily Gold Mine tragedy: Fam­ily mem­bers of still don’t have an­swers

CityPress - - Business - SIZWE SAMA YENDE busi­ness@city­

Le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tives for Lily Gold Mine work­ers and the fam­ily mem­bers of three mine work­ers whose bod­ies have not been re­cov­ered are wait­ing for the re­lease of a re­port re­lat­ing to the de­part­ment of min­eral re­sources’ in­quiry into a mine col­lapse last Fe­bru­ary. They al­lege that the mine it­self was neg­li­gent, which caused the deadly rock­fall.

The col­lapse at the mine en­trance on Fe­bru­ary 5 last year caused a con­tainer of­fice with three work­ers in­side – Pretty Nkam­bule, Yvonne Mnisi and Solomon Ny­erende – to plunge 60m un­der­ground.

Sev­enty-five work­ers sur­vived be­cause they were al­ready in­side the shaft and were res­cued un­harmed.

The mine in Louisville near Bar­ber­ton, Mpumalanga, is owned by Aus­tralian com­pany Van­tage Gold­fields and has been closed and put un­der busi­ness res­cue, leav­ing about 1 000 work­ers job­less, while man­age­ment tries to raise R300 mil­lion.

As­so­ci­a­tion of Minework­ers and Con­struc­tion Union (Amcu) and the late work­ers’ fam­i­lies’ lawyers are hop­ing that an in­quiry into the dis­as­ter will find that Van­tage was neg­li­gent and that the Na­tional Pros­e­cut­ing Au­thor­ity will pros­e­cute in the mat­ter.

The de­part­ment of min­eral re­sources is due to an­nounce its find­ings by the end of next month, and Amcu and mine man­age­ment will present their ar­gu­ments by July 28.

Van­tage Gold­fields CEO Mike McCh­es­ney was not avail­able to com­ment.

Amcu at­tor­ney Tham­sanqa Malusi told City Press that the out­come of this in­quiry would set a prece­dent be­cause this was the first case in South Africa deal­ing with the col­lapse of a crown pil­lar, a rock struc­ture that is used to sup­port the un­der­ground walls and to avoid a col­lapse.

Lily Mine started as an open­cast mine. Af­ter min­ing most of the gold from the sur­face, mine man­age­ment changed over to un­der­ground min­ing in 2011. They filled the sur­face where open­cast min­ing took place and left an 18m thick and 150m long crown pil­lar above the un­der­ground tun­nels. This is a beam of rock that sep­a­rates un­der­ground work­ings and the sur­face. They also left 5m wide ver­ti­cal pil­lars in place for ad­di­tional sup­port.

There are var­i­ous pil­lars sep­a­rat­ing the dif­fer­ent lev­els of the mine, which are called sill pil­lars.

Malusi said: “These pil­lars were the same type of rock that was mined to get gold and, when the mine was not do­ing well fi­nan­cially, they mined the pil­lars.

“Work­ers told us un­der cross-ex­am­i­na­tion that they were in­structed to mine the pil­lars. That would, of course, af­fect the sta­bil­ity of the mine and this could have con­trib­uted to the col­lapse of the mine.”

Ac­cord­ing to ev­i­dence sub­mit­ted dur­ing the in­quiry, the mine had a his­tory of at least four sill pil­lar fail­ures be­fore the crown pil­lar col­lapsed and blocked the en­trance to the shaft last year.

The mine’s rock en­gi­neers found that the fail­ures were due to weak­en­ing rock.

“Af­ter a while, the rock will be­come weak and col­lapse, which means the same thing hap­pened to the rock pil­lar. Our ar­gu­ment is that the mine should have fore­seen that this was go­ing to hap­pen to the crown pil­lar,” Malusi said.

He al­leged that the mine had no plan in place to en­sure that work­ers would not be in­jured if the crown pil­lar col­lapsed, and that they had erected many struc­tures above the sur­face af­ter fill­ing it up – in­clud­ing the con­tainer of­fice that fell dur­ing the dis­as­ter.

Malusi also said that they were ex­pected to keep the sur­face dry where open­cast min­ing hap­pened. How­ever, af­ter ini­tially in­stalling a pump to re­move ex­cess wa­ter from the area and mon­i­tor­ing whether the ground was dry enough, they stopped this pro­ce­dure in 2011.

“We don’t know how dry the sur­face was be­fore the col­lapse and we don’t know if the pump was work­ing,” Malusi said.

“Af­ter ex­trac­tion, the ore was placed on this sur­face and sprayed with wa­ter at least six times a day. Wa­ter was per­co­lat­ing from the sur­face into the crown pil­lar. We think that, con­sid­er­ing the his­tory of pil­lar col­lapses and the pres­ence of the wa­ter, the col­lapse of the crown pil­lar was fore­see­able.”

Last month, Van­tage Gold­fields and Cana­dian com­pany Galane Gold an­nounced that they had de­cided to merge.

This trans­ac­tion will fi­nally lead to the re­open­ing of Lily Mine, as well as its sis­ter op­er­a­tion Bar­brook Mine, as the needed R300 mil­lion for the op­er­a­tions to con­tinue will be avail­able.

The fam­i­lies of the three de­ceased mine work­ers have been paid R200 000 com­pen­sa­tion each as promised by the de­part­ment of min­eral re­sources. The work­ers who sur­vived the col­lapse were promised R50 000 each, but have only been paid R10 000 so far.

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