Mantashe squeezed for answers on mine deaths

Bereaved relatives and unions call for greater safety and better regulation in the wake of more than 50 fatalities at mines across South Africa during 2018.

The family of late Sibanye-Stillwater mineworker Lingelani Mgadi, 35, has called for an inquiry into the deaths of workers who have died at the company’s mine since the beginning of the year.

Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe announced that out of more than 50 fatalities in the mining sector this year, 21 have been at Sibanye-Stillwater’s operations in Gauteng.

Mgadi’s grandfather, David Mgadi, gripped by grief, told  New Frame how his grandson’s body was one of five found in an abandoned working area at Sibanye-Stillwater’s Kloof Ikamva shaft, south of Johannesburg, on 13 June. “Lingelani’s body was burnt beyond recognition … He had no hair, he had no skin whatsoever,” he said. 

David Mgadi raised concerns about the increasing number of fatalities at the mine’s operations, and accused the company of displaying a total disregard for safety. “What is Sibanye-Stillwater mine doing about the safety of its employees?” he asked. “Which safety measures did the mine put in place to prevent access of people into this particular area, knowing that there are stop ore passes and no ventilation in the area?”

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David Mgadi, grandfather of Lingelani Mgadi, 35, who was killed at Sibanye-Stillwater Mine earlier this year. Picture: Rethabile Phakiso.

David Mgadi said an inquiry would not only give families closure, but would address safety challenges at the mine. “I suspect that he was killed by a chemical explosion. His death could have been avoided,” he said. “Sibanye has absolutely no consideration for life. It is only chasing profits. It has complete disregard for safety.”

Lingelani Mgadi is survived by his mother, two sisters and son. “We want closure,” said his grandfather.

A class action lawsuit

Sibanye-Stillwater spokesperson James Wellsted confirmed that the workers disappeared when they entered the abandoned mine. “A thorough investigation will be undertaken into the incident,” he said, indicating that all incidents will be investigated by the Department of Mineral Resources and be made public.

When asked about demands made by the family members of the dead miners, Wellsted referred New Frame  to the department, saying: “The department might decide on lodging an inquiry following outcomes of the investigations.”

Wellsted could not give timeframes on when the investigation would be concluded.
 
At a media conference held recently by the department, Mantashe said the mine health and safety inspectorate is investigating and compiling a report on Sibanye-Stillwater.

US law firm Bernstein Liebhard has filed a class action lawsuit against Sibanye-Stillwater on behalf of shareholders to recover their losses following a sharp decline in its share price after a spate of fatalities at its mines.

Union reaction

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) has called for an urgent intervention by Mantashe and President Cyril Ramaphosa. The union also wants amendments to the Mine Health and Safety Act, particularly section 23, which gives workers the right to refuse to work in dangerous conditions, and in so doing counter the power of mining bosses. Proposals being worked on by Amcu include specific procedures to strengthen section 23, as the current stipulations are deemed too open-ended.

Duncan Luvuno, health and safety chairperson of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), released a statement on behalf of the union, which reads: “As the NUM, we vehemently condemn this kind of incident as there is a high number of fatalities in the mining industry in South Africa this year. We further urge the Department of Mineral Resources, which is the regulator, to play its role in ensuring that mines are safe and the safety of mineworkers is prioritised.”

The statement followed the deaths of six mineworkers who died after a fire broke out at a copper mine in Limpopo on 15 July.

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