11 March, 2020378 mineworkers were rescued on 10 March after being trapped underground for nine hours. The workers were trapped when a UV 72 machine used to transport workers and materials underground caught fire at Sibanye Stillwater Simunye Shaft in Rustenburg.
According to IndustriALL affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the mineworkers were taken to three different refugee bays for safety. The bays can hold 40-50 workers at a time, but at the time of the incident, there were over 125 workers in each bay.
The single escape route in use delayed the workers' rescue as workers were only brought safely to the surface after nine hours. A woman worker who fainted was taken to hospital where she recovered. No worker was injured.
Justice Mabaso, NUM Rustenburg health and safety secretary, says:
“We are worried that there was no plan B for the escape route. The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy must address this, and we are also concerned that the fire extinguishers are manually operated and not automatic.”
When the fire started underground, the driver of the vehicle scurried for cover. The NUM is questioning why the driver is supposed to use a manual fire extinguisher to put out the fire, putting his own safety is at risk.
Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL director for mining, says:
“We are shocked by the number of deaths and mining incidents that are threatening mineworkers' lives in South Africa. While we are satisfied that everyone was safely brought to the surface, we want to know why the UV 72 caught fire in the first place, and why the rescue took so long.”
In another accident that show how dangerous South African deep mines are, three workers were killed, while four were rescued with broken limbs at AngloGold’s Mponeng mine last week. The rockfall happened at 3.5 km underground at the world’s deepest mine.