Shaft was or­dered closed

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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”.

PIC­TURE: NH­LANHLA PHILLIPS/AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY (ANA)

Min­ers at Sibanye’s Kloof gold mine in We­stonaria pray for four of their col­leagues who died in­side an aban­doned shaft.

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