Shaft was ordered closed
THE tragic deaths of four miners hasbeen blamed on a shift manager, accused of putting profits before lives, by allegedly forcing the group of workers to work in an abandoned and dangerous underground stope.
Angry workers yesterday claimed their colleagues choked to death through a combination of gas and poor ventilation.
The damning allegations emerged following Monday’s incident at Sibanye-Stillwater’s Kloof Ikamva shaft in Westonaria, west of Joburg.
The bodies of four miners have been retrieved while the fifth has not been accounted for.
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) was even more scathing when it said Sibanye’s operations had become killing fields.
“The union questions why a manager allegedly forced employees to go underground even though the Department of Mineral Resources has reportedly issued an order to stop production at the operation in question. The shaft in question was reportedly ordered to be closed in terms of section 54 of the Mine Health and Safety Act for reasons related to excessive temperature and inadequate ventilation,” Amcu leader Joseph Mathunjwa said.
However, company spokesperson Thabile Phumo said the ban was only for a specific area in the shaft. She added that the area where the bodies were found was not sealed off but there was a ventilation wall which prevented anyone from accessing it.
“The workers were officially on duty when the incident happened. They went into the area led by the supervisor of the team. We don’t know why, but we will interview the safety representative who refused to go into that area,” Phumo said.
The Star interviewed several miners from shaft 4 where the incident took place, and they blamed their supervisors for allegedly bending the laws by forcing them to work in dangerous conditions. They claimed that about two weeks ago, another crew had refused to work in the same stope, citing poor ventilation and unbearable heat. The supervisor and overseer were suspended as a result, and a new crew was brought in on Monday to work at the same stope.
“The manager then asked the new crew of six people to go and assess the stope. Their safety rep, known as Dlamini, refused to go in because of the heat, which was above 37°C, while other guys went down unwillingly.
“They felt they had to go down because they always get intimidated that they will lose their jobs if they don’t obey orders,” said a miner.
The miners said it would have been impossible for the workers to go into the stope without an instruction from managers.
The mine said it was still a mystery how the miners ended up in an abandoned stope.
The Star understands that Dlamini and other men who were present prior to the incident were yesterday morning collected by the company’s bus from their hostel in Kopanang. The company refused the media access to the workers.
Sibanye- Stillwater faced similar accusations of intimidation of workers when seven miners were killed in a seismic event last month at the company’s Driefontein operations.
It was alleged that a shaft manager forced them to work less than two hours after ground shook not far from the area where the fatal seismic event occurred. During their memorial service, the company’s chief executive, Neal Froneman, said workers would not be fired for refusing to work in dangerous places.
“All employees have the right to withdraw from unsafe conditions, and we expect that right to be exercised responsibly whenever it is necessary. Whenever we see unsafe conditions or behaviours, there is no excuse for ignoring it and looking the other way,” Froneman said at the time.
However, National Union of Mineworkers health and safety chairperson Peter Bailey yesterday said this was impossible because the workers would be charged with insubordination if they refused to take orders from their superiors. Bailey said Sibanye-Stillwater always put profits before the lives of its black employees.
“This company has a his- tory of negligence and they account for 19 of the 45 deaths in the mining industry this year,” Bailey said.
While the rescue team was busy trying to retrieve the fifth miner yesterday, a group of more than 100 workers gathered for a mass prayer at the hostel’s sports field. But others did not bother. They said it was pointless to pray against “a wrong that was done intentionally”.
Miners at Sibanye’s Kloof gold mine in Westonaria pray for four of their colleagues who died inside an abandoned shaft.