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Families of Lily Mine trio call on Mantashe to prosecute

2019-03-17 15:12

The families of the three mine workers who died when a support pillar at a mine in Mpumalanga collapsed in 2016, trapping them underground, have issued a plea to Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe to ensure that those responsible for the accident are prosecuted.

The families of Yvonne Mnisi, Solomon Nyirenda and Pretty Nkambule wrote to Mantashe on Thursday, asking him to “start an investigation and prosecution” action against Vantage Goldfields SA management.

The dead bodies of Mnisi, Nyirenda and Nkambule are still trapped in the Lily Mine in Louisville, outside Barberton, and have not be brought to the surface because of a lack of funds and unsafe ground conditions.

This has been a source of anguish for the families.

The letter, which City Press has seen, is signed by the three families and reads as follows: “We, the three families of Yvonne Mnisi, Solomon Nyirenda and Pretty Nkambule, write to you, Honourable Minister, asking the department to start investigation and prosecution [sic] of the Goldfields directors, who have failed to bring our children back.”

They further allege that Vantage Goldfields SA’s CEO, Mike McChesney, told them during a meeting on March 4 that “he is not responsible for what happened to our children”.

“[Our] position is that the responsible person must be prosecuted with immediate effect,” the letter reads.

McChesney’s phone rang unanswered and he did not respond to questions sent via text message.

Read: Mantashe soft on nailing Lily Mine safety failure

When City Press contacted department of mineral resources spokesperson Ayanda Shezi, she said she was travelling in the North West and promised to respond, but did not.

Mantashe is a former mine worker who became the general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers before later moving into government.

In his current position as mining minister, Mantashe has adopted a soft position on dealing with those responsible for mine deaths and poor safety.

This was highlighted earlier this month, when he released the 2018 mining health and safety statistics. Mantashe said criminal charges could not be a formula to deal with mine fatalities and the issue could not be dealt with emotionally, or the industry would be crippled, according to Fin24.

In contrast, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union president Joseph Mathunjwa has called for more punitive measures in response to mining fatalities. Last year, 81 people died in the local mining industry, compared with 90 in 2017.

The department of mineral resources finished its inquiry into the Lily Mine disaster in March last year, but no charges have been laid, nor have any prosecutions taken place, despite evidence of negligence against the mine’s management.

The department has also not laid charges at a police station against any party after its inquiry.

As part of the inquiry, the department wrote two reports. The one given to the families and other parties did not recommend prosecution, but a second, exclusively prepared report for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) did call for prosecution based on the contravention of the Mine Health and Safety Act.

The NPA has, however, confirmed that it does not have a police docket or a case number, which is needed for the agency to proceed with prosecution.

The inquiry found that the container office at Lily Mine stood on a 15 metre thick crown pillar between the floor of the mine’s main open pit and the roof of level four.

The mine has 12 levels underground.

The disaster happened when 27 metres of the main crown pillar from the main entrance collapsed.

The report said that there had been 10 pillar collapses, causing falls of the ground, that occurred before the February 2016 accident, which the mine’s management did not report to the mineral resources department’s principal inspector of mines.

Mine management, according to the report, also ignored rock engineer Rudi Kersten’s input about the location of the main access to the underground workings at the mine.

Kersten recommended that the mine’s permanent access be developed about 100 metres south of the western extremity of the mine’s open pit.

The report also says no evidence was presented to confirm that the crown pillar was supported at the roof of level four of the mine to prevent it from falling or collapsing.

The accident happened on February 5 2016 while Mnisi, Nyirenda and Nkambule were working in a container office, when the entrance to the shaft sank and their workstation fell underground.

Rescue and recovery missions to find the three bodies have failed because of the unstable ground conditions.

DMR has apparently not laid any charges after its inquiry into the disaster.

The department said it wrote two reports after the inquiry.

The one given to the families and other parties did not have any recommendations for prosecution but a second, exclusively prepared for the National Prosecuting Authority, did call for prosecution based on the contravention of the Mine Health and Safety Act.

The NPA has however confirmed that it did not have a police docket nor a case number.

The inquiry found that the container office stood on a 15-metre thick crown pillar between the floor of the mine’s main open pit and the roof of level four.

The mine has 12 levels underground. The disaster happened when 27 metres of the main crown pillar from the main entrance collapsed.

The report said that there had been ten pillar collapses of falls of the ground that occurred before the February 2016 accident, which the mine’s management did not report to the DMR’s principal inspector of mines.

Mine management, according to the report, also ignored rock engineer Dr Rudi Kersten’s input about the location of the main access to the underground workings at the mine.

Dr Kersten had recommended that the mine’s permanent access had to be developed approximately 100 metres south of the western extremity of the open pit.

The report also says no evidence was presented to confirm that the crown pillar was supported as a roof of level four of the mine to prevent it from falling or collapsing.

Vantage Goldfields owned Lily Mine in Louisville outside Barberton that collapsed on February 5 2016.

Mnisi, Nyirenda and Nkambule were working in a container office when the entrance to the shaft sank and their workstation plunged underground.

Rescue and recovery missions of the bodies have since failed due to the unstable ground.

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November 17 2019