South Africa: How were 955-trapped miners rescued?

Workers from a gold mine have been safely brought back to the surface after a power outage

South Africa: How were 955-trapped miners rescued?

The miners had been trapped underground since a power cut hit on Wednesday night, and back-up generators failed to work. Sibanye-Stillwater mining company said miners stuck up to 1000 meters below ground after outage caused by a storm had prevented elevators from bringing the night shift to the surface. The mine, where the incident occurred, is located in the town of Welkom, Free State, 290 kilometers from Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city.

Power was fully restored to the mine at 1:40 am, Khulu Phasiwe, the spokesman for state-owned utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., said on Twitter. Eskom has praised its female team leaders for coordinating the reinstatement of electricity supply so that trapped miners could be rescued during the night. Phasiwe praised the team leaders by their name, in the brigade were: Operations Manager Nozipho Mpanza and Recovery Manager Bondozi Mapeka.

The mining company managers and unions say food and water was delivered to the trapped miners while they awaited the restoration of power, which enabled elevators to carry them to freedom. Anxious family members had congregated along the road to the mine, but were kept away by security forces.

"I am relieved because for about 32 hours of being underground ... The fans were not working, so everything was not working," said Lawrence Sithole, a production supervisor who was trapped underground. "But we managed to calm down all the employees. So, I think the management of Beatrix mine or Sibanye-Stillwater must make sure for the next time something like this must not happen" Sithole affirmed.

Mine unions and others have expressed concern that there was no functioning back-up plan for evacuation. They argued the incident reflects permanent safety problems in South Africa's mines.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) called on mineworkers to refuse to work in “dangerous conditions”. “Major multinational corporations like Sibanye-Stillwater which should be industry leaders in creating a safety culture are doing far too little to prevent accidents,” the union said in a statement.

The Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources is outraged because almost 1.000 miners were trapped underground from Wednesday until Friday morning, just because a storm knocked out power supplies. "It is utterly unacceptable that an underground mine, whose operation takes place under the light of a bulb, could attribute its failure to bringing workers on the surface to a power outage. This goes to demonstrate the attitude of management towards safety," committee chairperson Sahlulele Luzipo said.

The lawmakers on the committee called for “drastic actions to such acts of carelessness, including exploring possibilities of laying criminal charges against the management for attempted murder” claims an official statement in which the Committee urged the Department of Mineral Resources to take drastic action.

South Africa possesses rich mineral reserves and has some of the world’s deepest gold mines. Gold was for many decades the pillar of South Africa’s economy, but production has declined sharply due to reduction of reserves. More than 80 fatalities were recorded in South African mines in 2017.

 

LatinAmerican Post | Carlos Eduardo Gómez Avella
Copy edited by Marcela Peñaloza

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