Former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba intends taking the Mineral Resources and Energy Department to court to force it to prove that the container, in which three Lily Mine workers were trapped when it fell into a sinkhole in Barberton in Mpumalanga more than four years ago, is irretrievable.
Mashaba told News24 in an interview that he gave the department a deadline of 4 August to give him documents that prove that the container was irretrievable.
He said he has spent about R400,000 in legal fees – in the past 30 days – from his own pocket in an effort to have the container retrieved.
“One company made an offer to buy that mine and said it firstly wanted to retrieve that container, but the department said it was irretrievable,” said Mashaba.
“Last week, the department promised to give us the documents that show proof that the container is irretrievable, but they didn’t. We want those documents. We want that container out so that there can be proper burials of the three victims”.
Lily Mine workers Yvonne Mnisi, Pretty Nkambule and Solomon Nyerende were trapped underground in February 2016 when a lamp-room container they were working in fell into a sinkhole created by a collapsed crown pillar.
Rescue operations were started the same month in an attempt to retrieve the bodies of the three workers. The operations were later halted because the mine was declared to be unsafe. Lily Mine subsequently applied to be placed under business rescue administration.
Mashaba said he decided to help the families of the three victims after his organisation, the People’s Dialogue, received messages from the public since December last year asking for his help to retrieve the remains of the workers.
Spokesperson for the families of the three Lily Mine victims, Harry Mazibuko, told News24 this week that family members of the victims and a number of former Lily Mine workers have been protesting for the retrieval of the remains by camping outside the premises of the mine from the end of April last year.
“Mashaba is our last hope,” said Mazibuko.
“We were over 100 when we started camping here but we are now 30. We survive on hand-outs. Our lives are tough, but we will stay here until that container is out”.
The Mineral Resources and Energy Department confirmed in a statement on Wednesday that it received a request for access to documents pertaining to the Lily Mine accident inquiry from the lawyers of affected families.
“After consultation with the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions), the department was given permission to avail specified requested documents to the lawyers. The department is currently in the process of collating these documents,” said the department.
“The department remained committed to working with all relevant stakeholders to find ways to locate and retrieve the container, thus affording the affected families closure from this painful accident,” it added.