The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) on Friday said occupational health and safety had improved in the mining sector, but the industry still had a long way to go to “zero deaths”.
NUM spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu said the union would continue lobbying government to punish mining companies that did not comply with the health and safety regulations.
“The NUM does not want to see workers dying and getting injured underground. We want zero deaths in the mining industry,” Mammburu said.
“This is why we always tell our members that they must refuse to work in dangerous conditions.”
Mammburu was speaking in an exclusive interview with the African News Agency (ANA) ahead of the 30th anniversary commemoration of the 1986 Kinross mine disaster at Evander Gold Mine in Mpumalanga.
About 4 000 people were expected to attend the commemoration organised by the NUM, the chamber of mines, the department of minerals resources (DMR) and Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC).
On September 16, 1986, 177 mineworkers were killed at Kinross Mine in one of South Africa’s worst mine disasters.
It was found that an acetylene tank sparked flames that swept through the mining tunnel, igniting plastic covering on the wiring. The flames also set fire to polyurethane foam that was used to keep walls in the mine dry.
The burning plastic combined with polyurethane and churned toxic fumes that filled the shafts, choking miners to death.
As many as 177 mineworkers were killed and 235 others injured. One mineworker was reported missing.
After the disaster, the NUM complained about low safety standards in the mines and two weeks later staged one of the largest protests in country.
Workers stayed away from work, and others held memorial services to mourn those who died in the mine accident.
Mammburu said though mineworkers were still dying underground, the situation had improved compared from 30 years ago.
“The situation has improved since the Kinroos disaster, to be honest, but mining companies still focus on profit (rather) than on lives of workers,” Mammburu said.
“The DMR must be tough on noncompliance of health and safety legislation. We are also worried about the rumours that the department’s inspectors are in the pockets of mining companies, and they don’t enforce adherence.”
DMR spokesperson Martin Madlala was not immediately available for comment.
Minerals Minister Mosebenzi Zwane will attend and speak at the event. He will deliver a keynote address at the event.
Other attendees include Peter Bailey, NUM health and safety national chairperson; Mike Teke, president of the chamber of mines; David Msiza, chief inspector of mines; and chairperson of mine health and safety board; and Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza.
– African News Agency (ANA)