Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane has called on mining companies to prioritise the health and safety of miners as part of the zero harm targets set out by government.
Government, for its part, will be tough in exercising its powers and regulatory issues. The health and safety of mine-workers, Minister Zwane said, remains of paramount importance not only for the day-to-day operations of mines, but for the long-term sustainability of the sector.
The Minister said this on Friday when he visited Harmony Gold mine in Caltonville for a report following a seismic incident a week ago, in which five mineworkers died. On Thursday, the last two bodies of the miners were brought to surface, ending a six-day rescue mission.
The deceased miners include Mr Matuba, Mr Mokhele and Mr Mokemane, who were all stope team members, and Mr Moganedi and Mr Sethafuno, who were both rock drill operators.
Minister Zwane said a full investigation into the fatal incident has been instituted. The investigation team will be made up of the Chief Inspector of Mines, David Msiza, and the department’s inspectors.
“I have told the inspectors to leave no stone unturned. We want to get to the bottom of all that has happened.”
Harmony Gold chairperson Patrice Motsepe, who went to visit the families earlier this week, has described the visits as “a very painful and sad experience”.
He committed to working with the investigation team. “Whatever comes of that report, it can never change our responsibility.”
According to Motsepe, as a mining company, their aim is to ensure that miners do not lose their lives.
As such, he said the mine takes full responsibility and accountability as the miners lost their lives on their mine, irrespective of what the full report will conclude.
“We have a duty to provide jobs but we have a duty to ensure a safe environment. We have an obligation to never stop trying to create the safest and healthiest environment for our workers. Workers must not come to the mines to lose their lives. It’s unacceptable, hence we are saying we are responsible.”
While the mine has had five fatalities last year, which were all not underground, the mine committed to continue with best practices in ensuring safety.
Trade union Amcu representative, Sanele Myeza, called on the Minister to expedite the inquiries into all mine deaths, and not only this instance. He raised concerns that the investigations take over two years, which compromises the final reports. Myeza said in many cases, witness scarcely recall the incident as it happened and in other cases, some workers are no longer part of the workforce.
“We need to see people being held responsible. We hardly ever see senior executives being held to account,” Myeza said.
He called for an end to treating miners as commodities that can be easily replaced.
Chief Inspector Msiza said the duration of the investigation depends on a number of issues. “In terms of seismic [events] and earthquakes, we cannot fully predict, although we can measure the possible risks based on geotechnical areas in seismicity.”