Trade unions are questioning safety of the Beatrix gold mine in Free State, South Africa. Photo: Sibanye-Stillwater

South Africa: Demand for better safety after nearly 1,000 miners trapped

02.02.2018

Trade unions in South Africa are calling for an urgent review of safety after almost 1,000 miners were trapped underground for more than 24-hours at the Sibanye-Stillwater Beatrix gold mine in Free State. 

All the 955 miners had been brought to the surface by around 6am on Friday 2 February after being stuck down the mine following a storm on the night of Wednesday 31 January that caused a power outage. 

“They are all healthy, but they are just exhausted and resting at home,” said IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). “The NUM is concerned that there were no contingency measures or plans put in place to deal with this kind of an incident.” 

Only last week, at least 30 mineworkers were trapped for 12 hours at the Harmony Phakisa mine, also in Free State. Every year since 2012, over 70 people have died underground as a result of mining accidents in South Africa. The number of deaths at South African mines has increased in 2016 and 2017, after years of declining fatalities.

“The NUM is extremely worried about health and safety measures in all mining companies in South Africa. We are calling upon the Department of Mineral Resources as the regulator in the mining industry to conduct infrastructure audits in all mining houses to see if they are ready to deal with these kinds of incidents when they happen.”

Meanwhile, IndustriALL affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), is demanding that Sibanye-Stillwater Beatrix Mine should remain shut pending a full investigation.

“We are calling on the Department of Mineral Resources to do a thorough investigation before allowing the mine to continue its usual operations. They must also investigate why the mine seemingly did not have a back-up generator when the power outage occurred.”

IndustriALL Global Union’s assistant general secretary, Kemal Özkan, said:

“We are alarmed by the increasing number of deaths in the South African mining industry and this latest incident must act as a clear warning to mining companies to review and renew their safety procedures to prevent a possible disaster in the future.”