Business

Mantashe soft on nailing Lily Mine safety failure

2019-03-05 13:00

Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe and his department are not moving to nail those responsible for the Lily Mine accident that claimed three lives three years ago.

This, despite the department saying it compiled a report, which it handed over to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

The report recommends that those responsible for the safety failure be prosecuted.

Mantashe did not ensure that his department opened a police docket against those the report had fingered for prosecution.

After completing its inquiry into the collapse of the entrance to Lily Mine in Louisville – outside Barberton in Mpumalanga – the mineral resources department produced two reports in March last year.

Scenes of the collapsed mine showing the extent of the damage and the rescue operations at Lily mine in Barberton. Picture: Vantage Goldfields Mine

The first one, which was handed over to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and other stakeholders in August, made no mention of punitive action and was widely blamed for being soft on the mine’s then owners, Vantage Goldfields SA.

The second one, according department spokesperson Ayanda Shezi, recommended prosecution and was handed over to the NPA – but without a police case number.

Shezi declined to make the second report public.

She said that Shamila Batohi, the new National Director of Public Prosecutions, had the report.

“Anyone who has a material interest in the inquiry may request a copy of the second report from the director of public prosecutions,” Shezi said.

Monica Nyuswa, the NPA’s spokesperson in Mpumalanga, said the mineral resources department had based its recommendations for prosecution on the contravention of the Mine Health and Safety Act.

“The NPA is not yet in possession of the police case docket. The department did not provide any police reference [case number] in its report to the NPA,” Nyuswa said.

When City Press asked Shezi about whether a police docket had been opened, she did not respond.

Nyuswa said: “The NPA, at this stage, still has to liaise with the provincial commissioner [Mondli Zuma] to obtain clarity regarding the case docket on the missing persons. The possible charges will be informed by the evidence contained in the police docket.”

Nyuswa said the NPA could not indicate when the matter was likely to go to court or whether the police investigation was complete.

She declined to provide a copy of the report or give details of its recommendations.

Nyuswa said occupational health and safety prosecutors were dealing with the matter. “They received a report from the department pertaining to Lily Mine in March 2018. Even though the department report recommends a prosecution, further investigations are still necessary to make a proper determination regarding the final decision to prosecute.

“The NPA is aware that the families of the affected parties need closure, and we will endeavour to see to it that the investigations are expedited,” she said.

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa was not available to comment.

National Union of Mineworkers president Joe Montisetse said the union had not received a copy of the mineral resources department’s report.

“We are calling for an investigation into the matter because it is a case of carelessness. Once we get the report, we will pressurise the department to lay charges,” Montisetse said.

He said the department’s record in pressing criminal charges against irresponsible mine owners depended on who held the ministerial post.

“Some are bold and some are not,” he said.

The department conducted the inquiry following the collapse of a part of the mine on February 5 2016, which resulted in three workers – Yvonne Mnisi (30), Pretty Nkambule (22) and Solomon Nyirenda (39) – being trapped underground.

They were working in a lamp office that was swallowed by landfill and plunged underground. Their bodies have yet to be retrieved.

Mnisi’s mother, who did not want to be named, said she wanted the miners to open the mine so that she could find her daughter and recover her body.

“We do not care much whether anyone goes to jail or not. We want to find our children’s bodies … that is what is painful to us,” she said.

Seventy-six workers who had already entered the shaft were rescued.

The container that plunged underground stood on a 15m 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 27m of the main crown pillar from the main entrance collapsed.

The department’s report dashes any hope that the bodies of the three workers can be recovered.

“From the evidence led in the inquiry, it is clear that the recovery of the three missing employees is almost impossible because of the severity of the collapse,” the report said.

In the report, it is also stated that there had been 10 pillar collapses of 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.

It also found that the mine’s management failed to take rock engineer Rudi Kersten’s input about the location of the main access to the underground workings at the mine.

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

The report said 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.

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November 17 2019