(FORBES AFRICA) It has been 22 days since the tragic accident took place at the Vantage Goldfields’ Lily Mine, in Barberton, in Mpumalanga, trapping three people.
After more than three weeks of hell, Yvonne Mnisi, Pretty Nkambule and Solomon Nyarende are still stuck in a steel container-based lamp room, 80m underground due to a crown pillar collapsing at the open pit gold mine on February 5. Every day the families of the three pray that they come out alive.
“This haunts me every day, I can’t even begin to explain the pain I’m feeling right now. If they come out alive I would be grateful, but at this point, we are ready to accept any news. Even if they are dead we want their bodies, because we want closure,” says Nkambule’s husband, December Mazibuko.
As the drills bone away at the mine, families of the trapped believe more could be done.
“A ritual is done at all mines, but it has never been done here. There were signs that something like this would happen. People have been hurt countless times in that mine and we’ve been telling the managers to do a ritual, but they keep refusing…all they care about is making money,” he says.
On the day of the tragic accident, 115 people clocked in for work and nearly all were rescued.
The three were working in a steel container, used as an office that crashed down a sink hole.
Three collapses delayed the rescue. One saw a large part of a hill fall into the hole where the container was.
The rescue team suffered another setback when a drilling machine broke down making an escape route.
“A rescue mission has begun, and the plan is to drill a hole 800m away from the sinkhole,” says Mike Begg, Operations manager at Lily Mines, at the gates of the mine.
This disaster came days after the South African Chamber of Mines celebrated the lowest fatalities in the history of mines.
In 2015, it was reported that 77 mineworkers died underground, the lowest number on record.
“These mines are failing dismally to comply with the safety rules and regulations of mines... It’s a really sad situation,” says Secretary General of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, Jeff Mphahlele.
“We are concerned about the safety of mines in this country because this is the third incident to happen in three months,” says Sihlulele Luzipho, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources.
“We need to find a way to tighten up the rules where safety compliance is concerned,” says Luzipho.