The Congress of SA Trade Union (Cosatu) on Wednesday lambasted Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, accusing him of failing to help illegal miners trapped at an unused Langlaagte gold mine just as he failed Lily mine workers in Mpumalanga, three of whom remained underground seven months after a section of the mine collapsed.
The trade union federation said Zwane failed to speak to miners’ families when he visited the Langlaagte mine shaft on Monday.
“Cosatu is annoyed but not surprised by the stunt that was pulled by the Minister Of Mineral Resources, Mosebenzi Zwane at Langlaagte, Johannesburg, of holding an impromptu press briefing and a photo opportunity instead of addressing the affected families and relatives of the trapped miners,” Cosatu said.
“He did not bring anything for the families and miners by the way of relief or answers to their plight.”
Workers at Lily mine still waited for promises made to them by Zwane, the organisation said.
“The minister treated the Langlaagte miners with the same disdain and indifferent attitude that he treated the Lily Mine workers. He continues to pretend as if the Lily Mine tragedy never happened. Workers are still waiting for the money that he promised them, the last and the only time he visited Lily Mine.”
On Wednesday, the mineral resources department defended its decision to call off the search on Monday, despite miners still being trapped underground.
A group volunteered to rescue those trapped underground and subsequently brought two bodies to the surface on Tuesday night, bringing the number of the dead to three.
The department’s spokesperson Martin Madlala said the search was called off due to a fire underground and highly toxic gas levels.
“The minister visited the area on Monday and warned members of the community not to enter the mine shaft due to fire and high concentration of dangerous gases and harmful smoke,” said Madlala.
“Danger notices were also distributed to the members of community the same day. The MRS [Mine Rescue Services] was instructed by the DMR to assess the area to ensure that the concentration of gases and smoke has decreased to acceptable level so that rescue operation can resume.”
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He said that Langlaagte police told the department that families from Lesotho had reported to the police that their relatives were still missing. The department then requested the police to provide a list of Lesotho citizens that were missing and of persons who knew the whereabouts of the missing persons.
“DMR officials went to Langlaagte police station to receive more details in order call rescue services to resume the search. Unfortunately on their arrival at the police stations, the Lesotho family members were not back as yet to provide more details about the alleged missing miners.”
It was then agreed between officials and the South African Police Service that the rescue operation as soon as more details was received from Lesotho family members, he said.
Cosatu said it was important to rescue the illegal miners, regardless of their nationality.
“While, we understand the reasons for putting the rescue mission on hold due to a fire underground, we are worried that the minister is not really committed to rescuing these miners because he keeps emphasising the fact that they are allegedly foreigners. Cosatu, as a class oriented federation of workers, does not believe that the nationality of these miners should be used as an excuse to neglect and abandon them underground.”
– African News Agency (ANA)