In the afternoon 5 February 2016 just outside Barberton in Mpumalanga, Lily Mine reported that about 90 of its workers were trapped 60 metres below the surface in a sinkhole after a tremor sank a lamp container.
Soon thereafter, 87 of those mineworkers were rescued from the ordeal.
Unfortunately for Elmon Mnisi, Pretty Nkambule and Solomon Nyirenda, the ordeal had just begun for them and their families.
Friday marked exactly five years since the disaster. Families held a memorial in the camp which has since become their home for almost two years now.
They complained that the new owner of the mine, Vantage Goldfields, had constantly been harassing them with police, wanting them to move so that operations could resume.
The families are, however, undeterred as they say they are not going home until their loved ones are retrieved.
“This camp has been burned down a number of times, police have come here with big guns and threatened to shoot us if we do not move, at one point there have been death threats,” said Sifiso Mavuso, who is the younger sibling to Pretty Nkambule, whose body remains trapped underground in the mine.
To date, there has been a barrage of promises to retrieve the three bodies and help families find closure. However families remain in the dark about the developments.
Subsequent assurances from the then minister of mineral resources Mosebenzi Zwane and Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza – who has since been redeployed – were that the government remained committed to working with the mine in retrieving the container to bring closure to the families.
The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy on Friday said that an administrative fine of R1 million had been levied against Vantage Goldfields back in September.
“There were several meetings that the department held with the business rescue practitioners, prospective new owners, families and the current mine owners to monitor the progress of the business rescue process,” the department said.
However, the families are denying any knowledge of the communication between them, government or Vantage Goldfields.