The bodies of the last two miners trapped underground at Harmony Gold’s deepest mine, Kusasalethu, in Carletonville, South Africa were recovered today (Thursday 31 August). It brings the total number of fatalities to five.
The miners were working 3,100 metres underground when a tremor hit the Kusasalethu goldmine, 90km from Johannesburg, on 25 August. “All of the employees who were trapped underground, are now accounted for,” the company said in a statement.
Rescue teams worked round the clock to try and save the trapped miners who were killed when a tremor measuring 1.2 on the richter scale caused a 10-metre fall in the ground. Operations were hampered by large rocks blocking the entrance to the section where the incident took place.
Gold mining in South Africa is becoming increasingly dangerous as mines reach the end of their productive lifespans. According to the Chamber of Mines, as South African mines have got deeper and reached depths of 4,000 metres, it has brought greater health and safety risks to miners as rock stress increases with depth. Furthermore, the deeper the mine, the longer it takes to reach the rock face, which hinders rescue efforts.
Targets set by the 2003 Mine and Health Safety Summit for the gold sector to reach international safety levels by 2013 have also been missed.
The Kusasalethu tragedy occurred just a month after three mineworkers died in similar circumstances in another accident at Tau Lekoa mine, North West Province, in July.
IndustriALL Global Union joins its affiliate in South Africa, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), in mourning the death of five mineworkers who died, of whom at least three were members of NUM.
Eric Gcilitshana, NUM health and safety secretary, said: “One of the five deceased miners, was a 25-year-old who buried his father last month and left a three-month-old son. It is painful and sad for the family. The lives of workers must always be prioritized to save lives. A safe workplace is a productive workplace. We believe that working as a collective team, we can save lives and achieve zero harm.”
Fabian Nkomo, IndustriALL, regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa, added: “When mineworkers go to work they expect to return home to their families. Mining companies must guarantee workers’ safety at all cost. This is why we are so saddened when workers continue to die underground due to accidents.”