There were more questions than answers on how five miners ended up in an “abandoned working area” with no working ventilation. Four have died and the search for the fifth miner is still on at Sibanye-Stillwater’s Ikamva shaft at Kloof operations outside Carletonville.
Commonly known as a “madala site” (old or abandoned site) among miners, such areas were expected to be sealed at all times. It was also standard practice that workers would not be allowed into any working area until ventilation supply had been restored.
Sibanye-Stillwater spokesperson Thabisile Phumo said the focus at the moment was retrieving the fourth body and to continue searching for the fifth worker who remained unaccounted for.
Strongly suggesting that they were not sure what happened, Phumo said all the questions would be the subject of an investigation into the mining company’s latest fatal incident.
Trade unions expressed their anger, saying the company had failed to up its game when it came to safety.
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) revealed that the incident brought the total number of deaths at the operations of Sibanye-Stillwater to a shocking total of 19 this year.
The number of people who died in mines in the country before the end of the first half of the year was already 45, according to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) health and safety chairperson, Peter Bailey.
“Sibanye-Stillwater is a leader in terms of the number of people who died and in relation to the fact of disaster, because it is a disaster whenever more than one person dies,” Bailey said.
He said they would continue to ask how the workers ended up in the disused section of the shaft.
“Sibanye-Stillwater tells us it was an abandoned site and secondly we hear that they intended to open that place in about three weeks. They would not have sealed it off because they want to save costs, so when they go back there is not a lot of costs incurred,” Bailey said.
“Besides, no shift supervisor would take workers and leave them in an area during normal working hours unless he received instructions ... all these contradicting views don’t make sense. Management said they were about 200m away from where they were supposed to be working.”
Bailey said it was explained to them that the area where they died is “sealed by a ventilation door”. “They say there was ventilation but it was not switched on. If it’s a madala site, you seal it off completely ... but this was not done because they knew they wanted to go back to that space,” he said.
“Our priority now is to have every one of those workers accounted for and thereafter we want answers. The department of mineral resources must come to the party and do something drastic to curb deaths of workers at Sibanye-Stillwater.
“We can’t have 45 deaths already in the first half of the year and there is no debate in society and yet when one farm worker is killed there is massive debate.”
Meanwhile, Amcu’s version was that “even though the department of mineral resources reportedly ordered the closing of the shaft, a manager still forced workers to go underground” leading to their deaths.
The union has released a statement calling for President Cyril Ramaphosa to “address this tragic state of affairs, by among others amending the safety legislation to enable greater rights to refuse in hazardous situations”.
Amcu said workers were finding themselves in difficult positions and unable to complain themselves. “Currently workers fear victimisation and unfair disciplinary action when calling for their rights. They fear being bullied and intimidated for making a stand,” the union said.
“The obvious other fear relates to loss of income. Still, we believe that it is important that this right is enshrined, and we need more investment in training so that workers can recognise hazardous working conditions.”
The recovery of the fourth and the search for the fifth miner were still under way at Ikamva Shaft where operations were halted for a day of mourning.