occupational diseases

It’s a noble intention: The South African mining industry has committed itself to ensuring zero injuries in the mining industry by December 2020. It’s a commitment that has been embraced by all stakeholders with notable results – as of 23 September, there have been a reported 35 fatalities, keeping the industry on track for the lowest number of fatalities in recorded history.

However, one life lost is one too many, particularly if is down to questionable safety practices. I say this in light of the death of four miners at Village Main Reef’s Tau Lekoa gold mine in Orkney two weeks ago, after they became trapped by a rockfall.

Now, while an official report into the accident is yet to be released, a report on TimesLIVE last week stated that NUM president Joseph Montisetse had received information that the workers had been mining the support pillars within the mine shaft, and had failed to conduct backfilling to create new artificial support pillars out of rocks and cement. “This is very dangerous and we understand that the mine had chosen not to do the backfilling because it is too expensive,” he said.

Incidentally, a similar tragedy took place at Tau Lekoa in 2017, where four miners died after becoming trapped in a shaft. The mine was taken over by Chinese-owned Heaven-Sent in 2015.

Zero harm is everybody's responsibility

With all the talk of a top-down approach to safety, particularly led by the Minerals Council CEO Forum, if indeed it is proven true that unsafe mining practices have caused the unnecessary loss of lives, those who call the shots at Tau Lekoa need to be held accountable. It’s time that mining gets tough on all safety transgressors, no matter their rank and file.

To the 100-strong team who made the arduous 1 350 m underground journey in an attempt to save the four men, Mining Review Africa salutes for your valiant efforts.

Finally, to the families of Xolani Meva (42), Lungile Nyawose (32), Katleho Nthibane (47) Karabo Mabuthile (35), we offer our condolences. Let’s hope that the loss of your loved ones will not be in vain and that no more lives will be lost in a similar manner.