Eight months of no answers on Lily Mine collapse

Search and rescue teams at the collapsed Lily Mine on February 13, 2016 in Barberton. Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Felix Dlangamandla

After many attempts to recover the container underground, operations at Lily Mine remain suspended to this day.

Families of three Lily Mine employees who got trapped underground when the mine in Barberton collapsed in February are still in the dark about when the remains of their loved ones will be recovered, eight months after the disaster.

Lily Mine workers – Yvonne Mnisi, Pretty Nkambule and Solomon Nyerende – were swallowed by the ground on the morning of February 5 when a lamproom container they were working in fell into a sinkhole created by a collapsed crown pillar at the mine.

On that fateful morning, Vantage Goldfields – the owners of Lily Mine – said approximately 90 employees were trapped underground after the collapse at the main entrance to the mine at about 8am.

The company, which has since brought Lily Mine under business administration, then confirmed that 87 underground workers were safely evacuated and brought to the surface, but the three surface workers remained unaccounted for.

After many attempts to recover the container underground, operations at Lily Mine remain suspended to this day because the ground was deemed “unstable” and lack of funding to drill a second decline has sealed the fate of the three workers.

In an exclusive interview on Tuesday, Lily Mine business practitioner Rob Devereux maintained that they needed to raise “R200 million at one go” in order for the rescue mission to resume.

“Last month on 15 September, a delegation with the Minister of Mineral Resources, mine management, Mine Rescue Services had a meeting at Lily Mine and agreed at possibility of going underground after monitoring conditions of the mine. We have previously not been underground because the three rescue attempts were declared unsafe,” Devereux said.

“We need to raise R200 million, or $14 million of foreign money at one go in order for us to drill a second decline and a ventilation shaft as per regulations.”

A Canadian company, AfroCan Resources Gold Limited, in June reneged on its agreement to investing “approximately $11 million” into Vantage Goldfields in order to begin the drilling of the second decline.

Devereux said they had also looked at other options which would allow for the resumption of the recovery mission, but that also fell flat.

“Then on 28 September, mine rescue service and trade unions sent a camera which saw a lot of deterioration underground and the decision to go underground was aborted.”

Devereux said despite the use of sophisticated technology provided by the camera, they still could not see or identify the container in the 150-metre diameter area in which the collapse occurred.

He said there were currently no mining activities taking place at Lily Mine.

“The mine is closed and no mining is taking place here. All the staff were redeployed to Barbrook Mine in Mpumalanga and some workers are doing some recycling to create more work,” Devereux said.

Devereux said they were constantly meeting and interacting with the affected families to keep them abreast of the developments, and the time he met them was last month.

“We do keep in contact with the families of the missing workers, in conjunction with Department of Social Development for welfare relief. As we speak today, mine management is addressing them,” Devereux said.

When the disaster struck, Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane announced that government would be giving R200 000 to each of the three families and R50 000 each to the miners who survived.

The department’s spokesperson, Martin Madlala, was not available for comment on Tuesday and did not respond to written questions.

Different trade unions, including the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), have staged marches to the department of mineral resources to demand more government action to resolve the problems at Lily Mine.

– African News Agency (ANA)

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