Mining firms blamed for risky operations
ON THE eve of the anniversary of the Lily Mine disaster, which claimed three lives, activists are warning that risky practices in a shrinking mining industry could lead to similiar future tragedies.
David van Wyk, of the Bench Marks Foundation, claimed the collapse at the Lily Mine, near Barberton in Mpumalanga, was a result of overambitious mining in an industry with an increasingly depleted resource.
“(Mining companies) are going after the remaining gold in mines that are essentially mined out and that’s a dangerous thing. They essentially start stripping the support,” Van Wyk said.
Lily Mine lies along a fault and Van Wyk said he believed mining support pillars eventually caused the collapse. He said many gold deposits around the country are nearing being mined out and numerous operations have been sold to scavenger companies, which are smaller companies known for taking risks to obtain the remaining ore and lacking adequate funds for mine closure.
“Mines (are) being sold off improperly and it’s a case of the Department of Mineral Resources not actually doing the work they’re appointed to do.”
The Department of Mineral Resources did not respond with comment.
On January 19, the department released annual statistics on mine health and safety, which revealed that 73 miners died last year.
“Seventy-six people still re- main 76 too many. Too many wives widowed and too many children without parents,” said National Union of Mineworkers health and safety chairperson Peter Bailey, noting that the statistics did not include the lives lost at Lily Mine.
While the number of injuries fell to 2 662 last year, a 15% year-on-year decrease, four deaths were reported by the time of the report launch.
The number of annual fatalities has been dropping dramatically over the past few decades. In 2002, 293 people died in the country’s mines and 4 728 were injured. A decade ago, those numbers dropped to 220 fatalities and 3 867 injuries.
At the report launch, Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane said the Lily MIne disaster “continues to occupy the hearts and minds of all South Africans”.
He said further collapses a week after the original in- cident had halted the rescue operation. “The investigation into the underlying causes of this accident commenced last year and has now been converted into a formal inquiry,” Zwane said.
“We’re anxiously awaiting the outcome of the official investigation because that will be important to ensure whatever the cause is avoided in the future,” the Chamber of Mines said in a statement.
Bailey said the department had been “very vigilant” in its application of the Mine Health and Safety Act’s Section 54 provisions, which allow the department to temporarily halt mining operations for safety reasons.
Several companies have pushed back against the department through litigation over a perceived overzealous application of the provisions.
Bailey and others argue this attitude towards the government intervention threatens the gains made in mine safety. “What we see the industry doing is somersaulting on causing zero harm,” he said. “We condemn that litigation.”
In a statement responding to resistance from mining houses, Zwane said: “Profit-making and the health and safety of workers are not mutually exclusive and it is unacceptable that these companies are choosing to cheapen the lives of mineworkers in this manner.”